Plastic is not a problem, but an integral tool for reducing global issues if it is managed rightly

BusinessMarketing & Advertising

  • Author Neelakamal Mohapatra
  • Published September 30, 2019
  • Word count 2,252

Food wastage is one of the major global issues. According to a report of Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) of the UN, about one third of the total food produced for human consumption has been wasted in the world. According to a report, approximately 40 percent of the food produced of worth over INR 960 billion wastes in India which is equivalent to the amount of food consumes by United Kingdom. As per Global Hunger Index 2018, India was ranked on 108 position out of 118 countries in the world. Out of total malnourished children in the world, one third of the children live in India.

Due to food wastages, our precious resources such as water, land, energy, labour etc. also gets squandered. It also contributes to the 8.2% of total greenhouse gas emission. For India being the second populous country in the world, fulfils the need of food of growing population and reducing food wastage is quite a big challenge. Wasting a kilogram of wheat and rice is equivalent to the 1,500 and 3,500 litres of water respectively that consumes into their production. In India, 25% of the fresh water would be wasted in producing food which is approximately equal to the size of an average flowing river.

Role of plastic packaging in minimizing the food wastage

Globally, 24% of food wastage occurs at production stage, 24% food loss happens during handling & transportation and 36% during consumption stage. These three stages are accountable for more than 80% percent of food wastage globally. There are various reasons for food wastage such as damage due to the severe weather conditions, mistakes during food preparation, inadequate shelf life, and spoilage during handling, transportation or distribution.

Plastic Packaging can be an integral tool for reducing food wastage by reducing damage during handling and distribution, by extending shelf life. Plastic Packaging cannot completely solve the problem of food wastage but can significantly reduce it to large extent. This can give an ample number of opportunities to the packaging developers to develop innovative packaging designs to reduce the food wastage. Packaging manufacturers should design such packaging designs which increase barrier protection and also extend the shelf life of the food products.

Intelligent packaging designs which can monitor the food quality while transportation & storage. Such packaging can enhance the safety, quality & traceability of the food articles. These packaging would be very helpful to reduce the food wastage specifically wastage of perishable food articles. Recyclability of packages should be one of the factor to keep in mind while designing the packaging structures for a product. Packaging manufacturers should make such packaging designs which can be easily recyclable with cost-effective recycling methods.

As plastic packaging can greatly contribute to reduce the food wastage, it gives rise to another major global issue that is plastic waste pollution. Accumulation of plastic waste badly affects the environment since plastic waste contains toxic pollutants which can cause harm to creatures of marine life, wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans.

As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide each year. 50% of which is single used- purposes. Packaging is the largest and dominant end-use market sector accounting for 42 percent (146 million tons) in 2016. Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. Since the lifetime of packaging is much lower than other products (like construction or textiles), it is also predominant in subject of annual waste generation. It is liable for almost half of global plastic waste.

According to All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA), there are 30,000 units of plastic processing units are available in India and the annual turnover of this industry is about 2.25 lakh crore. In India, one- third of plastic consumes in packaging sector only.

However, this fact cannot be neglected that plastics have a vital role to play in delivering a more sustainable future due to combination of light-weight, versatility, durability and other intrinsic properties. Plastic also contributes in efficient uses of our resources such as energy and water across a range of different sectors like packaging, construction works, automotive and renewable energy etc., and everyday applications. The most salient advantage of plastic as it significantly helps to reduce the food wastage, which is also huge global issue

Nowadays, people are reducing the use of plastic packaging & switching to the option like paper packaging. Use of paper in packaging would mean cutting down more trees in the world which leads to another issues like deforestation, climate change, soil erosion, less rainfall, greenhouse gas emissions to just name a few.

According to a report of Central Pollution Control Board, 26,000 tonnes per day (TPD) of plastic waste is generated in India. And 60% of that plastic waste which is about 15,600 tonnes per day was recycled and the rest ended up in landfills, streams or on roads. In India, the recycling rate of plastic waste is 60% which is three times more than the global average recycling rate of 20%.

In Europe, an average of 31 kg of plastic packaging waste is produced per person which sums up to 15.8 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste generated in the EU in a year. Out of which only 40% waste is recycled.

According to a report, 50% of the global plastic packaging consumes by Asia which would be increased fourfold by 2050. Out of which, 75% of plastic packaging uses for food and healthcare packaging.

In US, an estimated amount of 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics had been generated by mid of 2017. Out of which, 42% of non-fiber plastic made is used for packaging. An average of about 730,000 tons of high density poly-ethylene (HDPE) plastic "bags, sacks and wraps" were produced in the US in 2015, but only 5.5% of this total was recycled. In total, 4.1 million tons of plastic "bags, sacks, and wraps" including LDPE, HDPE, PS, PP and PVC were produced with a recycling rate of just 12.8%.

Plastic is an integral part of our lives, switching to alternatives cannot resolve the issue of plastic pollution. Instead of watching plastic as problematic substance that should be eliminated out of the environment, we need think about it as renewable resource which should be discarded properly. Firstly, we need to find out the alternatives to reduce the plastic pollution not plastic.

Effective methods to reduce the plastic pollution

The two most prominent ways are- circular economy strategy and proper solid waste management.

Circular Economy

Circular economy is an economic system aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits by minimizing waste and making the most of resources. A circular system describes a ‘make, use, reuse & recycle’ model of production which emphasizes on minimizing the resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and . This optimum wastage state can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. This regenerative approach is contrary to the traditional linear economy, which has a 'take, make, dispose' model of production.

According to a report of Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in more than 40 years, only 14% of the total plastic packaging used worldwide is recycled whereas 40% ends up in landfill and 32% in ecosystems and remaining 14% used for incineration or energy recovery. To lessen down the aforementioned figures, circular economy is a vision needs to be promoted to turn challenges into opportunities. This model is beneficial for both business & environment since it utilizes the resources more efficiently.

Many brand owners recognized the environmental concern and haven taken initiatives to reduce the plastic packaging waste to the possible extent. For example, Walmart has announced the initiative of "zero waste". Coco-Cola committed to collect & recycle its packaging. Also, use 50% of recycled plastics for increasing bottles by 2020. Unilever has decided to adopt circular economy system and targets to reduce its packaging weight by one third and halving the waste associated with the disposal of its products by 2020. Unilever and Nestle plans to use 100% recyclable and reusable packaging by 2025. In India, Pepsico announces the 100% recovers its multilayer packaging in by 2021.

Nowadays, manufacturers of plastic articles & packaging designs highly customized polymers and packaging structures with specific additives to fulfill the aesthetic requirements of customers. This can make the recycling process more complicated and expensive for the recyclers which may further affect the quality of the recycled articles. Therefore, in a supply chain, packaging manufacturers should vigilantly design the innovative plastic packaging materials, but keeping end-of- packaging life in mind throughout product development processes. Ink manufacturers should use such raw materials like pigments, additives, resins & varnishes which can be removed from the packaging during recycling processes. Packaging should fulfill the requirements of brand owners but can be either decomposed or recycled easily.

As a responsible ink Manufacturer, Yansefu supports the initiatives of the brand owners with its biodegradable printing ink solutions.

Proper plastic waste management by recycling process

Another well- known way to control plastic pollution is proper waste management. Plastic is not a problem, but plastic waste is. Plastic can be completed recycled at the end of its life cycle, if it is managed properly. But, due to lack of sense of environmental responsibilities & in absence of awareness and proper waste management system, accumulation of plastic litters everywhere in our environment has now become a challenging problem to deal with.

Plastic waste specifically from packaging should be collected, segregated and treated separately. Basically, plastic waste can be disposed of in four different ways- Landfilling, Incineration, Recycling and Biodegradation.

In Europe, less than one-third plastic waste is recycled. Out of total, 40% plastic is used in packaging. Energy recovery by incineration process is the most used way to treat about 39% of plastic waste in Europe. 31% of plastic waste goes to landfills and rest of 30% waste is recycled. However, due to the lack of capacity, technology and financial resources, half of the plastic waste collected for recycling is exported to other countries for waste treatment.

In 2015, an average of approximately 34.5 million tons of plastic waste generated in the United States, which was 13.1% of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generation. Out of which, a relatively small amount-3.1 million tons which taken account for 9.1% was recycled. However, the recycling of some specific types of plastic containers is more significant. 29.5% of PET bottles and jars and 30.3% HDPE natural bottles were recycled. An average of 5.4 million tons of plastics which is equivalent to 15.9 % of MSW was combusted for energy recovery and 26 million tons of plastic means 18.9% went to landfill.

Asia is the largest hub of plastic waste generation. China is the top producer of plastic waste which is approximately 59.8 million ton per year. Other than this, over the last thirty years, countries like United States, United Kingdom and japan exports their plastic waste to China to be disposed or managed. But, from 1 January 2018, China has implemented the ban on importing the plastic waste from other countries. Furthermore Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and India have taken steps at the national level to ban, restrict, or reduce the import of plastic waste along with stringent measures for waste management and clean-up initiatives for plastic waste management. According to a study, out of world’s 10 most polluted rivers, 8 rivers are flowing from Asia region which conveying plastic waste into the seas or oceans.

Government of India has taken several initiatives for waste management in the country such as "Beat Plastic Pollution" to wipe out the use of single-use plastics by 2020. State governments are taking measure like collecting plastic waste from the oceans and utilise it for road surfacing.

Companies like Nestle, Pepsico and Colgate collaborates with a waste management company known as Nepra Resource Management to collect the plastic waste from waste collection centres in metropolitan cities like Mumbai. The waste management group carries about 70-80 million of tonnes of plastic to cement kilns where it is used as an alternative for fossil fuels.

Similarly, few other companies in private sector like 3M Co., Coca-Cola Co., and Procter & Gamble Co. in association with American advocacy group called Closed Loop Ocean has taken initiatives and invested in collection, disposal & recycling of plastic waste in India & Indonesia.

In India, it is not possible to manage or dispose all the plastic waste produced in one go. To meet this challenge, a strenuous waste management should be implemented & followed with commitment & compassion.

As a responsible ink manufacturer and member of supply chain, Yansefu has taken initiatives to educate the people living in rural areas to segregate the plastic waste from the household waste before disposal, so that plastic waste could be easily processed for recycling.

Also, Yansefu is trying to collaborate with the government and private bodies as well to support the initiatives of proper plastic waste management in India. Since, banning or reducing the use of plastic is not the ultimate solution to control the plastic pollution in the country. This is because, plastic is the most valuable material used in food packaging which can immensely contribute to a great extent to reduce the food wastage in the country which itself is a huge global & national issue, by protecting the packaged food from the environmental contaminants, extending the shelf life of perishable and non- perishable food stuffs. And, this cannot be possible by reducing the use of plastic in food packaging.

Yansefu also supports its valuable customers biodegradable printing ink solutions and packaging developers to design such packaging structures which can be easily recyclable and used to the full extent till its lifetime end.

Therefore, significance needs to be given on design for recyclable plastic packaging structures for the packaged products, successful collections and segregation schemes for plastic waste with innovative and efficient recycling processes that can cut energy consumption. Following these measures, we can create a circular economy and actually reduce the plastics waste polluting our environment.

For more information please contact Mr. Neelakamal Mohapatra through email:

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