No Single Solution to Single-use Plastic in India

Sustainability in the food and beverage industry has developed beyond a trend to become a staple consideration for all businesses. While issues around biodiversity loss and water management are further investigated, and the meat-alternative market continues to grow sparking conversations around best practice, one of the tenets of sustainability continues to be a key concern, particularly in the beverage industry; single-use plastic.

Indian consumers have adopted behaviour similar to Western shoppers, and are increasingly engaging in conscious consumption, which translates to decreasing their environmental impact as well as supporting small-scale, local businesses. According to Euromonitor International, 67% of digitally connected consumers from India identify themselves as environmentally conscious, and are highly likely to purchase natural, organic, and recyclable products. Reporting also found that ethical living is a crucial trend currently influencing consumer preferences and driving new product development in soft drinks in India.

The Indian soft drinks industry reached 22.8 billion litres in total volume sales in 2018 and is expected to grow by 14.9% in 2018-2023. With considerable growth projected, brands need to have their finger on the pulse of what their consumers care about. In a report jointly published by Footprint Intelligence and the C&C Group, the key areas for the beverage industry to consider are strategy and culture, waste, packaging, water, social impact, raw materials, energy and emissions, and clients and consumers. In an effort to contribute to the mitigation of the climate crisis, the beverage industry is focusing on recycled material in packaging, and innovative solutions to reduce waste output. These efforts help brands connect with their new-age consumers who are environmentally responsible and want their brands to be as well.

The Indian government has also reacted to the issue and is set to ban single-use plastic by 2022, including plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws, and certain types of sachets. However, per capita consumption of plastic is still expected to double in the country between 2015 and 2022. This indicates that it could be difficult for many Indian consumers to break the habit, and pressure is on companies to come up with solutions by 2022.

Another challenge is the impact of COVID-19 on single-use plastic. With a heightened sensitivity around food and beverage products, many consumers are viewing plastic as the most hygienic means of packaging. Although this has not proven to be true, companies will have to put effort into promoting the hygenic properties of their packaging to quell any fears.

Single-use plastics are widespread in India and will not be corrected overnight. Beyond the environmental commitments of beverage companies, it is important to pay attention to consumer demands. The rising Indian middle-class want their brands to be ethically and environmentally responsible, and current nervousness around hygiene and safety will need to be a priority alongside sustainability efforts.