“‘India Needs a Robust Green Dot Program’ to reach Sustainability Goals & Establish a Circular Economy.” – Mr. Suresh Gupta. President IFCA & Former CMD Huhtamaki PPL, in a candid conversation with Packaging 360, shares deep domain knowledge & insights on the key issues facing the packaging industry.
Biography of Mr. Suresh Gupta (SG)
Thirty one years after joining Huhtamaki-PPL (formerly Paper Products Limited or PPL), Mr. Suresh Gupta (SG) retired as its Executive Chairman. He joined the company in 1987 at a difficult time for the company. When SG became a part of PPL the turnover of the company was just Rs.23 Crore and with a large workforce of 700 employees. He led the company until his retirement with sales growing a 100 times to Rupees 2300 Crores and the number of people working rose to 4000! Huhtamaki-PPL is the largest producer of printed and finished flexible packaging materials in India.
Mr. Suresh Gupta holds a master’s degree in management studies from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.
SG currently serves as President of IFCA – Indian Flexible Packaging & Folding Carton Manufacturers Association. He is an angel investor in socially beneficial start-up enterprises, and is also extensively involved in the Art sector.
Packaging 360: In your long & illustrious career, what has been your impression of the journey as a major convertor for packaging materials to F&B & FMCG brands?
SG: It’s been a journey full of exciting challenges and innovative solutions. The focus has been towards establishing New Technology & Business excellence. For the industry, I believe the pinnacle is yet to come as the industry reaches out to all our 1.3 billion people to experience the benefits from high-quality packaging for all categories of products.
Packaging 360: How do you visualize the future of flexible packaging in India & worldwide?
SG: Based on a custom designed combination of appropriate materials offering the best combination for protection & preservation of products ranging from foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, etc, flexible packaging has a bright future. In today’s connected world, products from all categories have become extremely complex & many variants of the same product require individually unique packaging solutions. Lightweighting will continue to be the USP of flexible packaging. Labelling will keep becoming ever more meaningful & relevant as consumer preferences keep demanding true and useful information about the contents of a product package.
Packaging 360: In your assessment, where is the sustainability agenda for packaging materials going?
SG: Sustainability means different things to different people so we need to define the term sustainability in a way that the common man understands in all its multifarious aspects. A key aspect is the creation and consumption of waste. As consumption of packaged commodities has been increasing dramatically, wastage & littering too has increased, and consequently pollution has increased of our rivers, oceans & other water bodies. In USA, the average total wastage of all products consumed is more than 2.5 kgs per person per day, while in India, it is somewhere in the range of 400 gms per person per day. Roughly, the total wastage created by a human being on our planet averages 1 kg per day per person. Therefore, a world population of near 8 billion people create 8 billion kilos of waste products per day. Huge! Hence reduction in wastage & somehow finding ways to prevent the waste from reaching the oceans should be the first steps, followed by effective methodologies for re-use, recycling and further useful consumption.
In India, strong commitment & determination will be required from all 1.3 billion people if we have to achieve a truly sustainable ecosystem. All stakeholders including Governments, Local Urban bodies (municipalities) Industry & Citizens must take this as a social responsibility & work on a continued basis.
Packaging 360: Does simply discarding plastics & shifting to paper packaging make sustainability agenda complete?
SG: No, I don’t think that’s going to work as plastics per se is not the culprit. It’s our lethargy in implementing efficient systems for waste collection / segregation / reuse / recycle. Also, our irresponsible habits like littering in sensitive environments, which has compounded the problem. Coming specifically to paper there is no evidence to show paper is 100 % biodegradable in its truest sense. Excavation studies in USA have revealed newspaper thrown in landfills many decades back is in pristine condition with print clearly readable. Paper, also has some key limitations – strength, water resistance, barrier, non-sealability and so on. Hence a ban on plastics & blindly making a change to paper-based packaging does not make sense.
Packaging 360: What are your views on “Monomaterial based multilayer Packaging structures” for Food packaging & other applications, especially with respect to safety & quality aspects?
SG: Multilayer flexible laminates & co-extruded structures, based on a designed combination of plastics, paper, aluminium foil; offer the best solution for complex food & FMCG products, in terms of barrier protection, lowering energy costs in manufacturing and in transportation, consumer ergonomics and above all hygiene & safety of products contained therein.
The Central Pollution Control Board has included “plastic” under “Green Category” meaning “least polluting” as it is recyclable. Alternative have their own problems.
Since there is a lot of ambiguity in terms of expectations while looking at the current alternatives, work still needs to be done on design to make packaging materials reusable or recyclable in an efficient and effective manner.
A simplistic solution, based on achieving recycling or compostable targets, unless simultaneously backed up by evidence that product protection & preservation is achieved, is not worthwhile. Hence selection of Monomaterial multilayer laminates should be adopted judiciously, depending on the nature of the product, time to market & its expected shelf life.
Packaging 360: What in your opinion would be the most pragmatic solution for plastics waste management?
SG: I feel India needs a strong “Green Dot Program” to drive the sustainability agenda forward. First the Government must clearly spell out policies & guidelines for the packaging waste management (PWM) industry and accord PWM the status of an organized priority industry alongwith allocating funds and resources e.g. creation of needed infrastructure for organized waste collection, segregation & recycling. Incentivizing the PWM industry will help in motivation.
An Apex body at the Centre, with functioning & accountable units at State level is needed to streamline PWM business. Disciplinary action on littering in public places must be enforced in all earnest. A national education program addressing all aspects of PWM, and addressing all demo graphics is necessary. Discussion forums must seriously address deficiencies in the existing EPR system & devise solutions and an overarching “Green Dot program” to overcome these.
The Indian industry has taken the lead to build machines which are capable of recycling mixed plastics waste, including MLP’s. Technology must now be rapidly progressed to commercially manufacture products emanating from these machines – such as building and road construction materials.
Packaging 360: Lastly your thoughts on bio- based & biodegradable polymers like PLA as potential packaging materials on a commodity scale like PE, PP & PET.
SG: As I mentioned earlier in this discussion, no material has been proven to be 100 % biodegradable. PE, PP & PET and many MLPs are easily recyclable into various products. Once the PWM system is well established, it will go a long way in preventing these materials reaching the water bodies & contaminating the food chain.
PLA & other bio based & biodegradable plastics are exotic solutions. Usage faces many difficulties, e.g. to create enough production without damaging the availability of food, and, in meeting essential requirements of strength, barrier and so on.