Friday, April 12, 2024

Optimism amidst challenges – Sanjay Gupta’s insights on bio-plastics revolution

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Sanjay Gupta (Right) at 10th Speciality Films & Flexible Packaging Global Summit 2023 in Mumbai

During his presentation at the 10th Speciality Films & Flexible Packaging Global Summit 2023 in Mumbai, Sanjay Gupta, senior vice president – corporate procurement and packaging development, DS Group, delved into the benefits of embracing bio-plastics as a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastic products. His insightful discussion revolved around strategies aimed at reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and fostering a more environmentally friendly future.

Gupta also shared innovative ideas such as integrating discarded food into the bio-plastics domain and exploring the utilization of second and third-generation feedstocks, which encompass non-edible crop components, bacteria, and algae, to revolutionize bio-plastic production.

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Gupta emphasized that from an environmental standpoint, bio-plastics derived from materials like polylactic acid (PLA), cellulose, and renewable biomass sources such as sugarcane, wheat, maize, wood chips, algae, and bacteria offer a promising alternative. These bio-plastics are designed to naturally biodegrade and, according to a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), they release 60% fewer greenhouse gases into the environment compared to their petroleum-based counterparts. Despite these clear environmental benefits, bio-plastics account for just a minuscule 1% of the total global plastic demand.

However, Gupta is optimistic about the future, stating that there is reason for hope. This optimism is based on several factors – a rising awareness among consumers, a growing demand for eco-friendly plastic products, and the introduction of government regulations. As a result, Gupta anticipates that this market will experience a consistent annual growth rate of 9% over the next decade.

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Gupta, however, emphasized the need to tackle various constraints for the widespread adoption of these products. Foremost among these challenges is the cost factor. Bio-plastics tend to have higher production costs compared to their petroleum-based counterparts. This can pose difficulties for consumers, particularly in a global landscape characterized by steep inflation in food prices, making it challenging for them to afford products with pricier eco-friendly packaging.

Gupta also highlighted the issue of biodegradable plastics having a shorter shelf life and being more challenging to recycle compared to traditional petroleum-based plastics. Improving these aspects is crucial to ensure the durability and environmental advantages of these products. Additionally, environmental concerns, including potential impacts on biodiversity and acidification, must be meticulously addressed to guarantee a positive overall environmental impact of these products.

Furthermore, Gupta noted additional challenges related to logistics and geopolitical events. From a logistical standpoint, events like the Russian-Ukraine war can disrupt the flow of food grains and other commodities across borders, creating obstacles in the distribution and availability raw materials for biodegradable plastic products.

Gupta cautioned that the sustainability of businesses in this industry is crucial. Many companies that initially ventured into manufacturing biodegradable products have struggled to sustain their operations. This highlights the need for a serious and thoughtful approach to the business side of biodegradable plastics.

Transforming challenges into opportunities

“Considering the Food and Poverty Index (FPO), which highlights that approximately 9% of the global population still grapples with hunger, it is clear that we must address this issue urgently. Furthermore, the world is projected to require a substantial increase of at least 70% in food production over the next three decades to meet growing demands. Paradoxically, about one-third of the food intended for human consumption is wasted on a global scale,” said Gupta.

To tackle this problem, Gupta advocated for seizing the opportunity to repurpose wasted food by channeling it into the realm of bio-plastics, alongside the utilization of second and third-generation feedstocks like non-edible crop components, bacteria, and algae.

“This transition warrants increased investment in research and development. As corporate profits surge, we should consider providing subsidies to businesses to support this shift. Additionally, clear and decisive government policies and frameworks, along with a well-defined categorization of bio-plastic products, are essential. By pursuing these strategies, I am confident that we can make significant strides in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and advancing a more sustainable future,” concluded Gupta.

Mahan Hazarika
Mahan Hazarika
Mahan Hazarika has served as the Editor of The Packman since 2017, demonstrating an impressive decade-long expertise in the field of writing about the printing and packaging industry. In his leisure time, he indulges in his passions for music, travel, and watching movies.

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