Mumbai: Empower India, a public policy think-tank, studied best practices of the retail industry including e-commerce to reduce the usage of plastics in packaging. While retail and e-commerce companies have taken measures to reduce single-use plastics - Amazon is ahead of the saving curve with Flipkart a close second followed by BigBasket. Amazon had saved 97,222 metric tons of single-use plastic in 2021, Flipkart is close to eliminating all single-use plastic packaging in its Indian fulfillment centers, and BigBasket is piloting a project to eliminate packaging from fruit and vegetable deliveries across India by 2023.
The disposal of non-recyclable or non-biodegradable packaging materials contributes to landfills, pollution, and resource depletion. According to experts, 94 per cent of plastics are recyclable whereas India only recycles about 60 per cent and the rest is discarded into landfills and water bodies. As a result, sustainability in packaging is becoming increasingly crucial.
According to data online, Amazon is making steady progress in delivering products safely while continuing to reduce packaging and increase recyclability. The company has eliminated 100 per cent single-use, thin-film plastic packaging originating from its India fulfillment network since 2020, and introduced packing paper and paper cushions in its fulfillment network to replace plastic air pillows and bubble wraps. Paper cushions are used to fill the void space inside packages to ensure that the product is well protected in transit. In the same year, Amazon also introduced 100 per cent biodegradable paper tape to seal and secure outbound customer shipments. Flipkart on the other hand introduced scalable sustainable alternatives such as eco-friendly paper shreds, replacing poly pouches with recycled paper bags, replacing bubble wraps with carton waste shredded material and two-ply roll to name a few. Amazon uses machine learning algorithms to determine the suitability of flexible packaging, resulting in packaging that is up to 90 per cent lighter than similar-sized boxes. These algorithms have reduced the use of corrugated boxes by over 35 per cent in North America and Europe in the past five years. Flipkart’s smart packaging approach also focuses on right-sizing and minimizing packaging waste.
Empower India secretary general K. Giri said, “While there is debate about how e-commerce is impacting the livelihood of retail sellers, it is very encouraging that e-commerce companies are reducing plastic waste through its best practices. I am impressed by the impact that these companies have had on small MSME who manufacture packaging materials. However, for the retail sector to help achieve a collective vision of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 then there is a need to encourage MSME to adopt more technology-driven solutions.”
Drawing the attention of the government towards this, Empower India urged the government to consider the suggestions for incorporation in various schemes the ministry is contemplating for green initiatives and also share with relevant ministries during discussions.