Ahead of the upcoming Sustainability in Packaging Asia conference, we caught up with Anil Sharma, Vice President / General Manager, Label and Graphic Materials, Asia Pacific of Avery Dennison, who shared his perspective on the future of packaging.
Q. Sustainability has become an increasingly important topic in the packaging industry in recent years. In light of the COVID pandemic there has been some discussion about a loss of momentum on sustainability as governments, companies and consumers priorities public health and financial security. What are the biggest sustainability issues for the packaging industry to address today and going forward?
End of Life, especially for plastic packaging remains a high priority for the packaging industry to address. The pandemic has resulted in an increase of plastic both to improve hygiene and product preservation but also in use in the medical sector for essential items like gloves, masks and medical equipment.
It is critical that this surge in plastic usage doesn’t lead to an increase in plastic in landfill or worse, leakage into the environment and the ocean. Therefore we need to continue to prioritise better end of life options for plastics.
This can present an opportunity as the value for recycled plastic content is increasing and demand from both brands and consumers for more sustainable plastic options is growing. More focus on collection, sorting and recyclability of plastic products will create opportunities to achieve our collective sustainability goals as an industry.
Q. Where do you see future opportunities for the industry and how has Avery Dennison been planning for and responding to these opportunities?
The prioritization of sorting, collection and recyclability referenced above creates opportunities for smarter packaging solutions and we see opportunity at the intersection of intelligent labeling and recycling. There have been significant advances in Intelligent labeling innovation, from watermarks to RFID and we’re driving a lot of that. Innovation in this area is very powerful because it achieves two important goals: Intelligent labeling not only allows for an enhanced customer experience but can solve a lot of the automated sorting problems at recycling facilities.
Additionally, Intelligent labeling could enable the tracking of sources of recycled content, from use to use. We are exploring the value of an intelligent label from beginning to end of life and back to the beginning again. There is strong and growing brand owner interest in solutions that enable them to provide more visibility and tracking across their supply chains.
Q. As you continue to look to the future, where else do you see new opportunities for the packaging industry and can you share more about Avery Dennison’s efforts to capitalize on these opportunities?
It can be challenging to distill these trends and focus on where we can make an impact but two common themes are emerging: 1 – Authenticity and 2 – Need for a smarter way to recycle. Packaging enables both of these.
We’re seeing a lot of emphasis and attention from brands and retailers on finding smarter and more effective ways of building intelligence and sustainability into their supply chains. This can encompass anything from consumer demands for plant based meats and more sustainable packaging to the business needs of the brands as corporate citizens trying to ensure security, reliability and efficiency in their supply chains. I think intelligent labelling can really help as these trends converge:
Imagine if there is a romaine lettuce recall sourced to one farm. Through smart labeling, we could trace the lettuce from that farm, harvested in the time period of concern. Our current system now has consumers throwing away all lettuce regardless of when and where it came from. In a world of scarcity of supply of food, intelligent labeling can play a huge role in eliminating waste.
Q. One of the goals of the forthcoming Sustainability in Packaging Asia conference is to help companies and individuals share best practice. Do you have any advice for packaging professionals starting new sustainability initiatives?
Sustainability is definitely a journey. We started ours nearly 10 years ago and in that time we have made significant progress and also seen the industry change and evolve significantly. There are a very wide range of challenges and it requires a diverse group of multi level stakeholders within the organization. It needs to cover a wide range of initiatives from sourcing products and evaluating the suppliers you do business with to collaboration with competitors and within the value chain to create something better for industry AND the environment.
Evaluating activities through the lens of environmental and social awareness will not only make your company better but will change you as a business leader. It is about finding the combination of passion and building a better business model.
Lastly, find what drives your organization. And don’t forget to build the bigger business case, one of social responsibility and the value that comes from your employees knowing they work for a company that’s focused on more than just this month’s sales.