How sustainable is Russia’s packaging industry?
Russia’s packaging industry is developing at an active pace, but one key issue, as elsewhere in the world, remains that of recycling and disposing of packaging waste, especially plastic packaging.
Sustainable packaging in Europe
Europe’s most common form of packaging material is plastic polymers - experts say the figure is 39.9% (unipack.ru). In 2018, 17.8m tonnes of polymer packaging waste was collected in Europe, with 42% recycled, 39.5% went to energy production, and the remaining 18.5% buried. Huge efforts are being made to increase volumes of recycling and waste-to-energy generation, reducing the amount going to landfill.
The EU’s strategy for dealing with plastic waste by 2030 is as follows:
- At least 55% of plastic packaging should be recycled
- At least 50% of plastic waste will be recycled
- Plastic packaging must be 100% recyclable or reusable
- Sorting and recycling capacity will increase fourfold on 2015 levels
- A complete ban on oxo-degradable plastics
Sustainable packaging in Russia
In Russia meanwhile, the picture’s not so rosy. Bills have already been proposed to phase out plastic bags, introduce restrictions on disposable plastic utensils, and organise recycling collection for bottles and cans. Many regions of Russia are introducing separate collection of municipal solid waste using a two-container collection system.
However, it would seem that it’s primarily multinational companies that are the ones truly concerned about the issue of safe and recyclable packaging. Many are aiming at 100% recyclable packaging by 2025-30 and between 25-100% recycled packaging depending on the type. Nestle, P&G, Unilever, Coca Cola, Henkel were named as those taking strides in this area by representatives of TikoPlastik at a content session at RosUpack 2019.
One example is the ‘Share with us’ project by Coca-Cola HBC Russia, a member of the Industry for the Environment Association (RusPEK). Implemented in 50 Russian cities, between 2016-18 around 60,000 tonnes of packaging waste was collected – primarily by ordinary citizens, mostly schoolchildren and students – and recycled.
Increasing the responsibility of manufacturers
Since 2014, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources has been promoting extended producer responsibility (EPR), which stipulates that manufacturers or importers of goods must take responsibility for waste either by organising recycling themselves, using a third party, or paying an environmental fee to the state for recycling. This concept was designed to encourage manufacturers and importers to consider the waste they generate and bring it back into the economy.
However, many producers consider the approach ineffective. Professional communities and associations are being created to help shape transparent legislation on packaging waste management.
One of these is the Industry for the Environment Assocation (RusPEK), which was founded back in 2005 by some of the largest manufacturers of packaging and consumer goods. Now formed of 20 major international companies operating on the Russian market, they presented their vision at RosUpack 2019. RusPEK’s goal is to create a legislative environment to help reduce the flow of packaging waste going to landfills and increase recycling. As a result of RusPEK’s activities 23% of the association’s members chose to independently implement ROPs in 2017, and by 2018 this jumped to 62%.
Global packaging recycling trends
According to Vera Bokareva, an independent expert observer of the packaging market, it’s now important to now focus on how to recycle packaging in its entirety not just partially and encourage the widespread use of multi-use packaging.
The global trends that Russian manufacturers will have to keep up with in the next few years include:
- Developing ‘smart packaging’ (according to Vera Bokareva, the global market for intelligent packaging is set to grow 4.2% in the coming year)
- Informing consumers about the sustainability of not only the product, but also the packaging (85% of consumers worldwide say they prefer sustainable packaging)
- Implementing alternative packaging formats, thus reducing the use of packaging
- Distributing biopolymers or bioplastics (entirely compostable material of natural origin made from corn and potato starches or soybeans)
- Moving away from so-called ‘biodegradable packaging’ (oxo-degradable packaging that contains an additive to accelerate the oxidation and decomposition of the material under ultraviolet radiation, heat, or oxygen. The material breaks down into microplastics that are difficult to manage and readily migrate along the food chain.)
- Reducing the weight of plastic packaging, using alternative materials, transitioning to monostructures in packaging (that is, the production of packaging from homogeneous materials that are easy to recycle)
Small steps are being made in Russia towards sustainable practices. This year, Russia’s Kurnikov Saratov Poultry Plant plans to build a plant for producing ‘sanitary-hygienic paper’ from rye and wheat straw to produce napkins, toilet paper and paper towels.
At Moscow-based Europlast, recycled plastic polymers are being used successfully in packaging production – their PET bottles consist of 10-15% recycled polymer.
Conference: Sustainable Packaging and Prospects for Developing a Circular Economy in Russia
In response to increased demand from the industry, RosUpack 2020 will host the conference ‘Sustainable Packaging and Prospects for Developing a Circular Economy in Russia’, aimed at senior managers of packaging and consumer goods companies, as well as production and procurement businesses for recycled resources.
The conference will cover:
- Sustainable packaging in Russia and worldwide: an overview of trends
- State regulation and changes in ERP legislation and waste management: the impact on packaging market players
- Transitioning to sustainable packaging: the risks and opportunities, project economics, case studies
- Innovation in materials and technology for sustainable packaging
In 2019, RosUpack’s packaging sustainability conference was attended by over 500 industry professionals. Speakers included representatives of leading Russian and international businesses such as SIBUR, X5 Retail Group, Unilever, Tetra Pak, Stora Enso, Nestle, as well as leaders from professional associations such as the Industry for the Environment (RusPEK) and the Association of Paper Recyclers League.
The conference will take place from 11-6pm on 9 June as part of RosUpack 2020.
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