The plastics industry has played a key role in making modern life sustainable through affordable and accessible healthcare, food for all, and other conveniences. It now needs to act decisively to invest in innovation and technology aimed at increasing the lifecycle of its products for a sustainable tomorrow.
By Patrick Williams, SVP, Asia, Rosti Group
Talking about plastics and their positive impact on the environment is unexpected; it is definitely not easy. What makes the conversation difficult is the scale of the climate crisis we face, a large part of which has resulted from human industrial activity over the past century.
As one of the major inventions of this era, plastic is a key contributor to the modern life we take for granted today. I would go so far as to say that the invention of plastics represents a major leap of human and intellectual capital that has enabled mass-production of conveniences essential to life as we know it now. And, plastics industry is doing so sustainably.
A glance at the past
The invention and the evolution of plastics is rooted in sustainability. It was man’s search for alternatives to natural materials that led to the invention of Bakelite in the early 1900s. That was the precursor to the invention of plastics. By the time World War-II began, the human society, which was set to make a leap with progress in technology, medical and food sciences, defence, and industrial activity, was looking for man-made substitutes for natural materials.
The plastics industry responded with large-scale innovation to create a wide variety of plastics suited for various uses. It synthesized materials which provided a much more viable and cost-effective alternative to natural materials, thus helping to conserve key natural resources.
This enabled human progress at scale, increasing life spans, drastically reducing the cost of healthcare, food and other commodities as well as variety of appliances and machinery for industrial growth. What resulted was widespread job creation, poverty reduction, and welfare at a scale unprecedented in human history.
The landscape of impact
Some of the most widely used products in the field of health and medical infrastructure involve large-scale use of plastics. They make quality healthcare solutions accessible and affordable at scale. A recent case in point is the rapid mass-production of PPE kits, masks, syringes and other items that helped to manage the impact of the COVID-19 virus the world over.
Plastics are widely used in packaging, helping to safely transport and distribute products. These operations help to lower the carbon footprint just as much as they reduce costs. The use of plastics in food packaging has significantly helped to reduce food waste, thereby protecting natural resources.
Plastics have also helped new-age conveniences and technology reach each and every corner of the world, enhancing lifestyles. It is impossible to imagine a functional household today devoid of plastics – from appliances to apparel to electronic devices.
The way forward for the plastics industry
As a responsible partner to human progress at scale, the plastics industry needs to drive up its capabilities in research and innovation to help respond to the challenges of climate change. The Rosti Group has continually demonstrated a way to incorporate innovation and business responsibility in its approach to business growth.
Throughout our 78-year history at the Rosti Group, we have been known to bank on innovation to help make contract manufacturing of products more efficient and sustainable, operationally. More often than not, our innovative prowess has helped our clients design and make innovative products that have helped to further reduce their carbon footprint.
As a result, our clients are able to track the products we manufacture, and are assured of complete control over quality as well as zero loss of materials. They are able to report their performance on environmental sustainability with trust and transparency, while demonstrating their responsibility as a business. In my experience of 35 years at the group, our commitment to values of passion, integrity, partnership, and excellence continue to motivate us to help our clients adopt increasingly environmentally safe materials and manufacturing processes.
Thus, when it comes to our role in enabling environmental sustainability, we need to approach it from the perspective of controlling our entire value chain across geographies and markets globally. It should be based in increasing circularity and extended producer responsibility. Its key driver is innovation, a long-standing hallmark of the plastics industry. We have the capability to innovate products that increase customer lifecycle value while reducing our dependence on new materials and reducing waste by acting responsibly towards collection, sorting, and recycling it.
Importance of choosing the right partners
In an ecosystem dominated by contract manufacturers that focus on cost reduction merely as a key to business growth, players like the Rosti Group stand out with their significant value- additions such as commitment to sustainability through innovation and technology. We continue to grow by enabling our clients with a clear competitive edge in the market: their brands are recognised for the responsibility they demonstrate while supplying cutting-edge products, helping to run their value chain profitably. They rely on the Rosti ambition to ‘Leave no trace’. We ensure this through third-party certification. For example, we have complied with three international sustainability authentications, ‘RBA’, ‘SEDEX’ and ‘ecovadis’. “
The future beckons clients and industry partners who are conscious of their responsibility to people and planet and operate responsibly in their pursuit of profits.
At Rosti Group, we view our partnerships with each of our clients as an opportunity to root for environmental sustainability. For example, we have worked with a multinational electronics company to help design the exterior of an innovative LED lamp that produces adjustable colours and shades. We have successfully managed to replace glass with plastic. It has led to large scale energy savings while creating a product that promises an extended lifespan, which indicates further energy savings. As a result, more than 6 million such bulbs have been sold worldwide.
Plastics clearly have a lower carbon footprint than equivalent products produced from steel or aluminium. The challenge really is to control the disposal of these products at their end of life.
They must be reused and recycled, as far as possible back to the same quality as the original material. It is possible to achieve this through extended producer responsibility strategy, involving partners like Rosti Group for technical support and implementation.
We believe that industry-wide adoption of this Rosti Way is the key to further step up our contribution to climate change mitigation efforts globally.