Megatrend: Reducing Plastic Usage across FMCG Value Chain

Growing concerns about environment protection and an imminent ban on plastic usage have set in motion a sustainability drive to eliminate single-use plastic and reduce the amount of plastic reaching landfills

India currently ranks fifth among the world’s worst plastic litterers and accounts for 2% of the global mismanaged plastic waste. Although per-capita plastic consumption in India is relatively low, the amount of untreated plastic waste is huge, with the FMCG sector being the largest contributor to the pile.

Growing concerns about environment protection and an imminent ban on plastic usage have set in motion a sustainability drive to eliminate single-use plastic and reduce the amount of plastic reaching landfills. Several companies in the FMCG value chain have joined forces and have pledged to become plastic-neutral by 2025. Some are focusing on plastic-free packaging while others are implementing measures to collect and recycle plastic into alternative products (for example, apparel and furniture).

How are Indian FMCG Companies Adapting to this Trend?

To address the growing concerns about the plastic waste generated in the country, leading FMCG and packaging companies in India joined hands with the Packaging Association for Clean Environment (PACE) to launch ‘Karo Sambhav’. This is a waste-management venture aimed at creating an ecosystem that collects and recycles discarded consumer packaging. The companies plan to collectively invest over INR 1,000 crore in the venture to build a circular economy for plastic and ensure no plastic packaging ends up at landfills by 2025.

FMCG brands have also set individual targets to become plastic-neutral. Their product innovations and recycling initiatives make for interesting examples of this trend.

Innovations in Product Design and Usage of Alternative Material

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) plans to reduce its usage of virgin plastic packaging by 50% by 2025 and has invested in multiple-use packs (reusable and refillable formats) and no-plastic solutions to achieve this goal. To drive the demand for recycled plastic, HUL incorporated rPET (80% recycled PET) and rHDPE (25% recycled HDPE) in the packaging used in its range of personal care products.

Future Consumer is another company moving to adopt sustainable product designs, wherever commercially feasible. The company is working on simplifying multi-layered plastic for its products by exploring a non-plastic structure (polyolefin or a similar polymeric structure) for small sachets and staples packs, and replacing plastic with glass bottles in select food products to reduce its carbon footprint.

Recycling Drives and Initiative

Beverage makers (such as PepsiCo India, Coca-Cola India, and Bisleri) that package drinks in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles now plan to initiate a packaging waste management drive, in line with their sustainability goals. They have partnered with organizations to upcycle plastic waste and create utility products such as apparel, bags, and furniture.

Marico partnered with Big Bazaar to implement a recycling initiative that incentivizes customers to drop off used plastic bottles at stores. Dabur India also launched a program to collect and repurpose 20,000 metric tons of post-consumer plastic waste, aiming to be amongst the first Indian FMCG companies to become plastic-waste-neutral by March 2021.

Innovation in Packaging Material

In addition to leading FMCG brands, packaging companies in the FMCG value chain are driving innovations in plastic-free packaging materials.

Manjushree Technopack, India’s largest rigid plastic packaging company, launched its first recycling plant in Bengaluru to deliver post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin to the FMCG Industry. With an annual capacity to process over 6,000 metric tons of PCR resin, the plant can meet the sustainable packaging requirements of leading consumer goods brands in the country.

Packmile, a sustainable supply-chain packaging company, has been working with Amazon India to offer no-plastic alternatives to bubble bags and stretch wrap, such as kraft paper, which is biodegradable and recyclable.

The Road Ahead

Although this recent trend of sustainable packaging has been largely triggered by the anticipation of a ban on plastic use, packaging companies and FMCG manufacturers are riding this wave and developing innovative solutions to eliminate single-use plastic from the value chain. The PACE movement, now encompassing 30 leading players, is a positive move in this space and would encourage further investment in reducing the dependence on plastic across key industry sectors.

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