Going green seems to be the mantra of several brands opting for sustainable packaging of their products. Consider the following: Dabur is removing outer paper cartons from its toothpaste brand Dabur Red Paste; is working towards reducing the need for an outer layer of packaging and has eliminated all single-use plastic packaging. Further, Mondelez India has announced a grant to Hasiru Dala, an NGO that will recycle multi-layered plastic (MLP), a prominent packaging material used by the company.
Several FMCG companies have taken sustainability pledges at a global level and shifted to sustainable packaging materials. For instance, Unilever is introducing a paper-based laundry detergent bottle in Europe and other markets. Coca-Cola will introduce 100% recycled bottles in the US this year.
Shahrukh Khan, executive director of operations,, says dropping the outer paper packaging for toothpaste could save 150 tonnes of paper annually. Mondelez India claims that over 97% of its packaging is currently designed to be recyclable. Ophira Bhatia, director of corporate and government affairs, India and CGA Lead, EMEA, Mondelez, says the company’s recycling initiative will turn about 600 tonnes of MLP waste into boards that can be used to make furniture and construction material.
One of the reasons for the initiative is consumer preference. As per a 2021 Deloitte study, the environment is a top priority for millennials and GenZ consumers. “Sustainability has become a business necessity because studies show that the brands that don’t adopt environment-friendly practices stand to lose consumers,” says Sanjesh Thakur, partner of Deloitte India.
According to a Central Pollution Control Board report (2018-19), 3.3 million metric tons of plastic waste are generated annually in India. There are several ways to reduce the quantity of waste generated. A company could reduce the amount of packaging material used, substitute the material with alternatives, replace inks, decentralize transportation to reduce fuel consumption or use only recyclable materials.
Reducing the amount of packaging material used is a common starting point for many. But there are challenges. Like, plastic is a versatile material with valuable properties. “The substitution issue is that all plastic cannot be replaced by paper in all situations. Another concern is cost. For instance, ” bioplastics cost three to seven times more than regular plastics and have functional limitations,” says Kearney’s principal Maheshwari. He adds that the volume of such material produced in India is only 1% of all plastics produced in India. Packaging accounts for around 25% of any product cost across the entire Dabur range.
This cost and volume barrier may make sustainable substitutes unviable for mass use. “In India, sustainable materials are mostly used by brands that can charge a premium or boutique brands with a niche clientele that appreciates environment-friendly initiatives,” says Arnab Ray, creative director of Landor & Fitch.
Recycling is another promising area but it needs community action to be successful. “Post-consumer recycling is a challenge in India because we do not segregate waste, and our supply chains are not set up at scale to facilitate efficient collection of recyclable waste,” says Maheshwari.
Making bottles refillable is another way for brands to reduce their environmental footprint. This, too, hinges on consumers playing their part. Brands in India are working to overcome the hurdles of India’s complex market. “About 10% of brands that work with us are actively working on sustainable packaging, while 30% are seeking solutions and experimenting,” says Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder, and director, of Elephant Design.