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What it means to be sustainable if you're a packaging company

How a big company like San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation pushes back on plastic dependency and single-use packaging.

A recent global survey on consumer habits found that a third of consumers vote with their wallets, choosing brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

For many, a good part of that brand image involves using packaging. A hot-button issue, sustainable packaging is one of the most influential purchasing drivers among millennial consumers. A global Nielsen study discovered that young consumers scored 12 percentage points higher than the worldwide average of the category of those more likely to choose a product whose packaging is “environmentally friendly.”

Having swapped plastic bottles for reusable glass and metal and ditched disposable straws, consumers are turning to more sustainable alternatives, such as choosing biodegradable packaging formats or visiting refilling stations with used containers rather than buying brand-new packaged products.

With the focus slowly migrating away from consumer recycling behavior to legislation increasing extended producer responsibility for waste management, the packaging industry has suffered along with FMCGs, whose plastic packaging most often washes up on beaches and coastlines.

But not all packaging companies deserve to be called out as the bad guys. The Philippines’ largest packaging company, San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation (SMYPC), has, for 80 years, taken a sustainable, circular approach to business – long before the terms sustainability and circular economy became the buzzwords they are today.

For starters, SMYPC’s portfolio is predominantly glass, constituting over 44% of the company’s product mix. Plastics comprise 21% of the portfolio, corrugated cartons 10%, and cans 7%. Flexibles and laminates, the material that goes into sachets and retort pouches, comprise less than 5% of the total portfolio.

“There’s a reason why we focus on glass. Thanks to its recyclability, glass can be reused endlessly without compromising quality or functional safety. That’s why it is such a key aspect in our businesses’ sustainability strategy in the future,” says Ferdinand Tumpalan, President of San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation.

“Our packaging business has always taken a solutions approach to its customers' packaging needs. Customer needs have always been at the heart of SMYPC’s thinking. Today, the environment is too,” says Ramon S. Ang, President and Chief Operating Officer of San Miguel Corporation, SMYPC’s parent company.

We want to be as resource efficient as possible and, at the same time, try to close the loop,” says San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation President, Ferdinand Tumpalan. SMYPC mainly focuses on glass to reduce dependence on single-use packaging that mostly come from plastic. “There’s a reason why we focus on glass. Thanks to its recyclability, glass can be reused endlessly without compromising on quality, or functional safety. That’s why it is such a key aspect in our businesses’ sustainability strategy in the future.

Recovery and recycling play a huge part of the SMYPC sustainability model. The company works with local waste aggregators and garbage sorters to collect aluminum cans, plastic and metal caps, and other packaging waste that can be repurposed and recycled into new products.

In a number of provinces where the local government control landfills, SMYPC is an active partner in materials recovery. In these provinces and elsewhere, the company has set up cullet collection hubs to raise efficiencies in the recovery of used glass bottles.

San Miguel Yamamura Asia Corporation (SMYAC), the country’s largest glass plant, historically, uses up to 65% recycled glass. Likewise, SMYPC’s Cebu Glass Plant scores an even higher historical record of using up to 97% recycled glass in its manufacture of glass products.

Other packaging formats are also recycled. Pallets and crates that have outlived their usefulness, are retrieved from customers, crushed and cut into tiny pieces and returned to SMYPC’s plastics plant where they are recycled into new pallets and crates.

Tumpalan says, “We have a great record of recycling our plastic products. At the end of its lifespan, each crate or pallet we produce becomes part of a new crate or pallet. We manufacture plastics that can last five or ten years, but durability is just one of the product attributes we strive for, recyclability is another.”

Can Asia, Inc. (CAI), San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Group’s aluminum can facility recycles aluminum scraps and trimmings. This scrap is sold to the company’s aluminum coil suppliers and converted back to coils with a minimum 90% recycled aluminum content. Producing aluminum uses a lot of energy and by using recycled aluminum, SMYPC contributes to minimizing the energy required and volume of emissions from primary aluminum production by 90%. Adds Tumpalan, “We want to be as resource efficient as possible and, at the same time, try to close the loop.”

Even in its flexibles business, SMYPC manages its waste as efficiently as possible. Plastic trimmings are shredded and used as fuel feedstock in Northern Cement, a former subsidiary. “A majority of plastics have an end of life use and we try as much as possible to turn waste into something that is useful beyond its primary purpose,” Tumpalan says.

“SMYPC will be leading the way in innovative solutions to cut back on packaging waste. If, some 80 years ago, the challenge to SMYPC was to provide convenience and choice to our customers, today the challenge is how we can keep to these same goals and – at the same time – have a positive impact on the planet,” says SMC’s Ang.

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