Product innovations, green technologies, recycling and increased consumer awareness are some of the important steps taken by industry leaders in packaging and food processing like Tetra Pak towards environmental sustainability.
Rising consumption of packaged food and beverages, awareness and demand for quality products, and the need to improve the shelf life of foods as part of efforts to reduce waste are among the various reasons why food carton industry in India has witnessed double digit growth over the last several years. During Covid, it was among the industries that saw the addition of capacity by many existing players and greenfield investment by several companies.
The Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP) has estimated that the consumption of packaged food in India has increased by 200% over the past decade, from 4.3 kg to 8.6 kg per person per year. Valued at USD 33.22 billion in 2020, the Indian food and beverage packaging market is expected to reach USD 156.25 billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 29.88% during the forecast period (2021 -2026), according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. (Assocham).
FNBNews.com in a report says consumer demand for clean, safe and attractive food packaging has seen big transformations in the material used for packaging, even as environmental concerns have led industries to invest in innovations and to adopt technologies that help reduce the carbon footprint from production to post-consumer recycling.
One of the organizations leading innovation in the food and beverage industry is Tetra Pak – a world-leading packaging and processing company that is a partner of choice for nearly every major brand across the world. According to Tetra Pak, cardboard packaging is on average 70% plant-based or made from renewable materials that are responsibly sourced and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.
“There is a growing preference for the use of paper-based packaging, not just in India, but around the world. This allows companies like ours to continue to invest in the development of technologies that maximize the use of renewable materials, minimize environmental impact and make the most of the local ecosystem to reduce reliance on imports. says Ashutosh Manohar, Managing Director – Tetra Pak South Asia.
As a major industry player, Tetra Pak strives to create fully renewable, fully recyclable and carbon neutral packaging. Manohar hopes that “in 10 years, the packaging you will have in your hands will contain completely recycled fibers, without aluminum and with a touch of polymer, which would also be derived from vegetable sources. This is the broad ambition we have set ourselves, and we have a roadmap to achieve it”.
As the packaging industry focuses on increasing the paper content of packaging from 70% to around 80 – 85% and even beyond, the challenge remains to ensure food safety from its manufacturing, packaging, transportation and delivery to consumers. Without compromising packaging quality, the industry is looking to replace polymer and aluminum with more durable barriers. The industry is also working on using recycled fibers from used packaging in new manufactured packaging, making it a truly circular model.
The plan to eliminate the use of foil isn’t easy, Manohar says, because not only does it need to seal the package securely, it also helps protect the food product from sunlight. sun, thus preventing deterioration. However, since aluminum foil is an exhaustible resource, Tetra Pak’s attempt is to replace aluminum foil with something that performs the same functions. At the end of May 2022, Tetra Pak announced that it was now testing a fiber-based barrier to replace aluminum for products transported under “ambient” conditions. The first pilot is being deployed in Japan. In the case of polymer, the third constituent of cardboard, Tetra Pak has already sold more than a billion packages where the polymer based on fossil fuels has been replaced by that based on sugar cane.
But sustainability is not limited to raw materials alone. Large companies take a life cycle approach to the principle by focusing on the greenhouse gas emissions or carbon footprint of their products during operations and after sale.
In 2010, Tetra Pak publicly committed that by 2020 its growth would be decoupled from the greenhouse gas emissions of its operations by capping it at 2010 levels. GHG emissions from our value chain in 2020 were 19% lower than our baseline in 2010. In other words, this helped us save over 17 million tonnes of GHG emissions, demonstrating that decoupling climate impact and economic growth is possible,” Manohar shares, adding that Tetra Pak is now more focused on helping industry and customers reduce their carbon footprint.
Water conservation is another major area of interest. Over the past few years, many brand owners have drastically reduced their water consumption by 6-7 liters for every liter of still drinks, juices, dairy products, etc., packaged at approximately 0.5 liters of water per liter. Similarly, on the energy front, Tetra Pak invests in building efficient processing equipment, filling equipment, dispensing equipment and end-of-line equipment to reduce energy consumption per package. This has helped many companies drastically reduce their energy consumption to less than 50% of what it was 25 years ago.
On the recycling side, Tetra Pak began more than 18 years ago to build a local network of collection partners, NGOs, recyclers, while plastic waste management rules came into force in India barely four years. The company has partnered with four independent recyclers across India. This is backed up by over 30 collection or waste management agencies that provide a steady stream of used cardboard for recycling.
“As a country, we have been slow to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals. So when the plastic waste management and solid waste management rules came into force in 2018, the industry was taken by surprise. But the speed of response has been encouraging,” says Manohar. “Our 18 years of experience in India has given us a great starting point and we have also been able to help the paperboard industry accelerate its efforts,” he adds.
Over the past three or four years, various brand owners have adopted one or more cities and towns where they achieve maximum sales, focusing on post-consumer collection – India’s weakest point. “We work with NGOs and other collection agencies to separate packages at this stage. After separation, discarded packaging is sent to recycling channels. According to a TERI study, approximately 50% of packaging or carton discarded are currently being recycled in India.
As the deadline to ban the use of plastic straws from July 1 approaches, the industry has called for more time to fully switch to biodegradable material for straws that are attached to cartons, underscoring the need to distinguish between straws that can be purchased in bulk. and those that are attached to the primary packaging as they are polypropylene straws made from food grade materials, collected and recycled with the cartons. “While efforts are underway to replace plastic straws, this is a tough call as India needs 6 billion straws a year, but manufacturing capacity in the country is currently insufficient and imports will increase. costs dramatically. Most importantly, the integrated straws represent less than 0.1% of the plastic waste produced in the country, while being the most hygienic way for children and the elderly to consume cardboard drinks,” says Dr. Praveen Aggarwal, CEO – Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons.