As plastic is being phased out by year-end, pharmaceutical companies will have to rely even more heavily on the old stalwart: glass. But can glass match up to the convenience of plastic? Rajesh Khosla, President and CEO, AGI glaspac explains to Viveka Roychowdhury how new technology in glass manufacturing can match the characteristics of plastics
What trends are driving innovations in glass packaging solutions?
Glass packaging faces fierce competition from other forms of packaging in India. The pharma industry is also on the lookout for various alternative materials for commercial reasons. Various reasons for pharma companies to switch are loadability, breakages and unit cost. To compete with other alternatives, glass manufacturers are developing lightweight and durable bottles for pharma.
The glass manufacturers are also using concepts such as permanent engravings on containers, which displays the quarter and year of manufacture to avoid counterfeiting. AGI protects consumers from any harmful practices employed by fillers.
What is the update on the deadline to phase out plastic-based packaging? How will this impact the pharma sector, in terms of supply chain logistics as glass is breakable as well as heavier?
According to various studies, plastic will be phased out by the end of this year. India’s dream and global vision are to replace plastic with green and environmentally friendly product – glass. Since plastic is lighter in weight and easier to use, glass uses new technology in glass manufacturing to match the characteristics of plastics. As pharma bottles are non-returnable, they are produced at the lowest possible weights and with a uniform thickness which will be an added advantage for logistics. With the help of advanced ‘blow-blow’ and NNPB (Narrow Neck Press & Blow) technologies, bottles are produced with airtight packaging and delivered to the customers. Hence, AGI is gearing up for the phasing-out stage through its innovative packaging solutions.
How large is the projected additional demand for glass packaging in the pharma sector post the phasing out of plastic packaging?
The demand for glass packaging is expected to grow exponentially by next year. AGI has already installed the additional capacity to meet the rising demand, and there is no shortage of glass. NNPB can produce the best glass bottles, and the current trend is tempering, appealing, colours, and other value additions that will overcome the shortages and create a good supply chain to the consumer.
Is the glass packaging sector capable to cope with this projected additional demand?
To cope with the projected additional demand, most of the glass packaging industries are already storing raw materials and other primary materials. We, ourselves, have prepared various measures so that there is no shortage of glass. The glass packaging industry should also make use of a robust supply chain to cater to the market for the end-to-end consumer.
What will be the cost implications for the pharma company and the end consumer with the switch to glass packaging?
There won’t be much cost involved as most of the pharma products till 2011 used glass, and hence switching back to glass is not a challenge. Already, stability data is available with all the pharma companies. All the benefits of glass are available with the manufacturers of the pharma products as USFDA has already approved. With plastic phasing out in the next year, the demand for glass bottles is increasing substantially and even end consumers have started leaning towards glass. An increase in the price of the glass bottles may be at regular intervals only with the increase in raw material costs.
Do glass packaging majors like AGI glaspac have reverse logistics in place to recycle glass from the pharma sector for other uses?
AGI glaspac has been at the forefront of offering innovative and lightweight containers to the pharma industry. The usage of glass containers contributes in a big way to build a circular economy as the glass is infinitely recyclable without any degradation. AGI uses various technologies, such as the use of cullet (recycled glass) to reduce carbon emission in the society. Right after a consumer uses it, it is collected, transported and processed to become cullet. This way, the used container is melted back to form a new glass container. AGI glaspac will be in setting up ‘cullet systems.’ The company is getting the sorting system from an Austrian firm. It helps in separating caps, wrappers and glass systematically, paving the way for efficient reuse of collected bottles. Using this process of reverse logistics, we recycle glass.
AGI glaspac serves varied sectors from food, pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, spirits, beer, wine and other industries. What percentage of revenues comes from the pharma glass packaging division? What growth percentage are you expecting from this sector in the next fiscal?
AGI glaspac currently contributes to 30-32 per cent of glass packaging in the Indian pharma packaging industry. We are expecting pharma growth of more than 10 per cent by next year for our glass packaging.
Could you highlight some innovative packaging solutions provided to your clients in recent times?
AGI has recently provided the following packaging solutions to its clients:
· Offering a new tempering method for strengthening glass containers
· Creating a lightweight container in different geometric shapes
· Using newer technologies like single-stage forming to produce thinner but stronger glass containers
· Developing a coating on the surface of the glass to avoid strength loss
· Creating heat-resistant pyrex glass
· Creating internal embossing glass bottles