Sustainability takes backseat as APAC companies shift to plastic packaging to avoid outspread of Covid-19, says GlobalData

Sustainability has been a big trend in the past few years and many companies in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have switched to more eco-friendly alternatives, such as replacing plastic materials and removing single-use packaging. However, since the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19), companies may resort to plastic packaging to combat the spread of the pandemic putting the sustainability aspect in the back seat. Concerns around food hygiene due to Covid-19 could increase plastic packaging intensity which is likely to hurt the sustainability efforts of the industry in the near term, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Covid-19 seems to have originated at a wholesale seafood and meat market in Wuhan. Following the epidemic, the Chinese government is likely to enforce tighter regulations to change meat handling and distribution practices. Distributing meat in plastic packaging is likely to reduce the risk of a future outbreak but it may negate some of the progress made towards sustainability goals.

Adoption of disposable packaging is likely to gain traction due to the (temporary) rise in demand in food delivery and takeaway in the APAC region. For Instance, in Singapore some retailers have withdrawn ‘Bring Your Own (BYO) container’ scheme to reduce the risk of contaminated containers spreading the virus. Bubble tea maker Koi withdrew its BYO scheme and has stopped accepting personal cups or tumblers for any purchase during this period of Covid-19. BYO schemes helps in reducing the use of disposable packaging by encouraging customers to carry their own reusable cups in restaurants and coffee shops.

Arvind Kaila, Practice Head of GlobalData Consumer Beverages at GlobalData, says: “Single-use packaging, which has faced lots of criticism in recent years because of environmental concerns, might be seen as a better packaging alternative from a ‘hygiene’ point of view because of limited handling/access of the inner products; which may hurt sustainability goals set forth by governing bodies and businesses alike.”

Covid-19 appears likely to create a long-term effect for online retail; persuading online-sceptic consumers to move spend away from physical stores in a bid to reduce time spent in public places. For Instance, lockdown in India started this week led to ‘panic stocking’ by consumers of all packaged food items, which will further drive plastic packaging in near term.

Kaila concludes: “However, understandably, these consumers’ views are likely to change for more hygiene-driven features in the short term, in which consumers may view disposable packaging as positive.”

More Media