Outside of Japan. Korea and China how will sustainability impact on the Asian packaging businessIN recent issues Asiaphile has taken an in-depth look at the various sustainable packaging measures in place in Northern Asia, mainly Japan, Korea, and the sweeping changes being implemented in China.
With the attempts towards forming a unified set of mandatory Asian Standards for Environmentally Appropriate Packaging being led by the Japanese, this month Asiaphile reviews the sustainable state throughout the rest of Asia suggest whether the concept is viable beyond the three northern Asian players.
“In Thailand, sustainability is an issue which has come to the fore only in recent years due to soaring oil prices, finite resources and the problem of waste generation in our cities” says Dr Krittika Tanprassert, of the Department of Printing and Packaging, King Mongkut’s University of Techology, Bangkok, “So while it is seen as a big problem by both industry and the public, no single industry sector or consumer group can hope to solve on their own.”
As a step in the right direction, in 2006 the Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and
Environment published a Manual for Eco-Design Packaging which calls for reduction of unnecessary packaging elements, downsizing the volume and weight of packaging and where possible replacing liquids with more concentrated forms, for example in detergents.
While the Thai ‘Manual’ is not legislation, it does require certification and labelling of incinerator-safe packaging materials. It also offers guidelines as to the use of recyclable material and calls for the segregation of biodegradable and photodegradable materials. However with the exception of the requirement of signs and symbols and the standard urban waste collection regulations Thailand has not yet enacted legislation to restrict the packaging industry, partly due to a reluctance to restrict the packaging industry which become a vital national sector supporting the country’s massive export drive.
Despite the lack of comprehensive sustainability platform, the Thai Government has adopted a fifteen-year (2006-2021) three-phase strategy to encourage and build a regional hub for bioplastic R&D, manufacturing and eventual export. Phase I involves a national feasibility study, during which imports of bioplastic materials, mainly PLA, attracts favourable tariff relief. Phase II recommends the development of an indigenous bioplastic applications industry using imported materials. The final Phase III will be the eventual replacement of imported bioplastic with locally produced materials from Thailand’s abundant crops of cassava and sugar – the object being to build a competitive global market for Thai bioplastics. Both the Ministry of Industry and the National Innovation Agency of the Ministry of Science and Technology have been charged with implementing the national strategy and currently there are two academic institutions actively engaged in research and development while more than 12 companies have registered under the government assistance programme.
However, though governments may draw up a grandiose fifteen-year visions to become a regional leader in the bioplastic industry by 2021, industry thinks the timeframe a tad conservative. One of Thailand’s largest conglomerates, the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group announced on July 1 that it is investigating the possibility of entering into a US$59.6m (BHT 2bn) Joint Venture with Nature Works to upgrade its existing bioplastics business in Thailand. Currently CPPC, the petrochemical arm of the CP Group, buys PLA polymers from Nature Works and Metabolix. The proposed joint venture will produce a minimum 24,000 tonnes annually.
IN Singapore the Voluntary Packaging Agreement to Reduce Packaging Waste was launched in November 07 and is loosely based on the New Zealand model as joint industry-government initiative focussed on reducing the volume of waste dumped in Singapore’s landfill – a US$610m man-made offshore island created solely
as a garbage dump.
According to Albert Lim, President of the Packaging Council of Singapore “The Packaging Agreement is based
on the concept of product stewardship and a mutual accord between government and industry. It attempts to engage the entire packaging supply chain and shifts focus from mere compliance to continuous improvement.
“We consulted with various industry groups in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Europe and the USA and came to the conclusion that where legislation has been used is tends to be very rigid and usually means an increase in costs which are usually passed on to consumers, so the voluntary approach appears to be the best model for Singapore over the next five years.” Signed by five main industry groups, including packaging converters, retail, food and beverage sectors representing more than 300 companies.
Recycling firms, the four waste collection companies and a variety of non-government organisations the agreement is predominantly focused on waste reduction, rather than tackling issues such as sustainable material management.
Essentially it commits signatories to review or redesign their packaging, reduce packaging material usage, implement reuse or recycling programmes and educate industry partners on waste minimisation.
Signed in late 2007, it is too early to determine whether it will be effective, given that the New Zealand model has underperformed consistently since its introduction in 2004. Singapore also has the aptly named BYOBD (Bring Your Own Bag Day). Introduced in mid-2007 it is an effort to reduce plastic shopping bag usage in supermarkets throughout the country, under which retailers (voluntarily) charge consumers for plastic bags on the first Wednesday of every month. The concept has proved such a success, that the programme has been extended to every Wednesday. Though just Wednesday, mind you!
Malaysia & Vietnam
Singapore’s northern neighbour, Malaysia currently has no sustainability initiatives under consideration, while Vietnam is watching China’s progress and waiting for results.
Indonesia, to the south of Singapore has much bigger problems, according to Arianna Susanti, General Secretary of the Indonesian Packaging Federation, who says, “Indonesia’s packaging industry has a market value of approximately US$2bn (Rp20 trillion), mainly supplying the food and beverage sector, not surprisingly plastics account for around 51 per cent of this market.
“As an oil producing country, Indonesia’s plastic raw material production capacity reached 2.117 million tons in 2007”, said Ms Susanti, “We also produced an additional 952,000 tons of flexible packaging film.
“However waste is a major problem in Indonesia, since less than 40 per cent of our packaging waste is collected for recycling” she added. As a scattered archipelago comprising more than 18,100 islands with a population of more than 200 million and almost permanently failing economy, it is politically difficult for the Indonesian central government to introduce meaningful sustainability legislation.
The Indonesian Ecolabel scheme was introduced in 2004 and covered just three product categories: textiles, household detergent and uncoated paper. Supervised by the Independent Indonesian Ecolabel Institution, the scheme also incorporates the Sustainable Forest Certification programme.
Based on the company’s production and packaging performance the Ecolable considers all aspects of environmental performance both inside the company and its role in community.
It has five levels of certification:
• Gold, in which pollution levels are less than five per cent of the permitted legal levels and constitute almost zero emissions
• Green: Where the product/packaging surpasses the legal standard by more than 50 per cent, uses clean technology, waste minimisation in the production process
• Blue: Where efforts meet the basic minimal legal standard
• Red: Where the product/packaging does not meet the minimum standard
• Black: Absolutely no pollution control effort, and serious environmental damage.
Since the scheme is independent of government and has no underpinning legislation to give it teeth it has yet
to find acceptance by either the public or industry.
Bangladesh & Pakistan
IN South Asia, Bangladesh and Pakistan unsurprisingly are ignoring the issue.
India, however understands the need to take action but is under no illusion that action would be impossible in the world’s largest democracy where all 1.3 billion people have an opinion and are not afraid to use it at the ballot box. “Sustainability initiatives are not appropriate for a country like India where poverty is so pervasive”, said AA Joshi, Deputy Director of the Indian Institute of Packaging. In Sri Lanka, the situation is much better, according to RM Dharmatilake Rantmayake, chairman of the Packaging Development Centre, Sri Lanka and past president of the Sri Lanka Packaging Institute, says, “As an under-developed country we consume less than 54,000 metres of flexible packaging and slightly more rigid plastic packaging, paper and board is by far the largest material in use in the organised packaging sector – so possibly we are a little more sustainable than other countries in the region”
In 2004 Sri Lanka banned thin gauge PE film, less than 20micron, as wrapping material and established a network of small scale plastic recycling centres as part of a series of initiatives to address the country’s wider packaging problems: Accumulation of primary waste in the production process, haphazard disposal of post-consumer packaging in sewers and drains and the open incineration of household waste.
The causes, according to Mr Rantmayake, are “Inefficient packaging converting technologies, elderly equipment, poor labour skills, absence of testing equipment and lack of awareness on the part of the consumer and producer about the effect of packaging on the environment.” However, Mr Rantmayake adds an interesting perspective from the developing world “There are still many traditional packaging materials in use all across Sri Lanka, such as green leaf palm-fronds twisted into baskets to contain fresh fruit, vegetables and when hand woven in a particularly tight manner also can hold liquids, in a developing world these are the ultimate sustainable package, are they not? ”They come from a 100 percent renewable resource – you don’t need to chop the tree down, just pluck a leaf, it will grow back. It is 100 percent biodegradable – just dig it into the compost heap. It uses no chemicals to produce. It is free.
Finally, and importantly, it provides work for thousands of villagers across the country, often families or villagers
have centralised packaging producing co-operatives. “In some ways possibly Sri Lanka is lucky to have been bypassed in the global packaging boom of the past 30 years.” So while Asia is often thought of as one market the reality is that its different countries have wildly differing views on sustainability.