Cybersecurity in the maritime sector is of critical importance as sea routes accounted for about three-fourths of the EU’s imports and exports in 2022. The new Network and Information Systems Security Directive (“NIS2 Directive”) aiming to strengthen cybersecurity is expected to enter into force from October 2024 and will impact maritime companies with more than 50 employees or an annual revenue of over €10 million. The NIS2 directive, which will replace and repeal the NIS directive, expands the scope to cover a larger number of companies in the sector as it includes both medium and large-size companies.
Companies may feel burdened by strict NIS2 requirements
To comply with the new requirements, the companies would need to make cyber risk management a focal point for every business strategy and make cybersecurity measures a part of day-to-day operations. NIS2 adoption will not only demand additional investment but also change the way the business is done.
Increase in cybersecurity investments
A total of 156 entities in the water transport sector were subject to the NIS directive in July 2016, as it focused mainly on large enterprises. Under NIS2, this number is likely to increase to 380. In particular, the number of port and terminal operators covered in NIS2 will increase significantly. A senior IT executive from Port of Rotterdam indicated that while NIS covered only a few port stakeholders (~5 companies), more than a hundred companies would need to comply with NIS2.
European Commission indicated that the companies already covered under the NIS directive would need to increase their IT security spending by 12%, while for the companies that were not covered previously but would be covered under the NIS2 framework, the IT security spending would need to be increased by up to 22%.
Frontier Economics, a consultancy firm based in Europe, estimated that the costs of implementing the NIS2 regulation in medium and large enterprises across the water transport sector would be about 0.5% of the total annual revenue across the medium and large water transport companies, which amounts to more than €225 million per year.
Enhancement of OT security
The advent of digitization has resulted in rapid convergence of operational technology (OT) with IT systems, leaving critical OT infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. OT helps to monitor and control mechanical processes, making them particularly important for the safe operation of ports as well as other aspects of the maritime sector.
ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, indicated that from January 2021 to October 2022, ransomware attacks on IT systems were the most prominent cyber threat facing the transport sector and warned that ransomware groups are likely to target OT systems in the near future. NIS2 imposes stringent requirements for critical infrastructure entities, including maritime companies, to beef up cybersecurity from the perspective of both IT and OT.
Traditionally, maritime companies have considered cyber security primarily in the context of IT systems, but now there is a higher focus on OT cybersecurity, and the NIS2 is going to ensure investment momentum in this space. For instance, the Maritime Cyber Priority 2023 report indicated that over three-fourths of the respondents suggested that OT cyber security is a significantly higher priority compared to two years ago.
While NIS2 adoption may seem taxing, benefits are likely to follow
Like any new regulation, the adoption of NIS2 comes with additional costs and implementation hurdles, however, the consequent benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges.
Harmonization of cybersecurity requirements
In August 2023, a senior executive from Mission Secure, an OT cyber security solutions provider, indicated that maritime operators would welcome stringent cybersecurity standards. The maritime industry operates on thin profit margins, making it difficult for companies to invest more in cybersecurity than competitors. Implementation of NIS2 would set cybersecurity standards harmonized across the EU and thus level the playing field in terms of spending on cybersecurity while reducing the risks and losses associated with cyberattacks.
A 2020 study by ENISA suggested that the EU organizations’ cybersecurity spending is, on average, 41% lower than of their US counterparts. NIS2 is expected to drive the necessary investments in cybersecurity.
Moreover, given the international nature of the maritime industry, the adoption of the NIS2 directive will help the operators keep up with similar cybersecurity regulations around the world. For instance, Australia reformed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in 2022 to address the evolving cyber threat landscape. The UK, while no longer part of the EU, is in the process of revising the cybersecurity regulation for critical infrastructure operators in line with NIS2.
Upon implementation of NIS2, maritime operators will need to invest in more effective cybersecurity requirements, potentially increasing costs in the short term. Despite this, the increased investment will result in a more secure and resilient industry in the long run, and companies that are able to invest heavily in security are going to gain a competitive advantage over those that are not able to do so.
Digitization and connected technology in the maritime sector are evolving faster than its ability to regulate it. Hence, the maritime sector should view NIS2 as just another measure to elevate the cybersecurity framework. Companies need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape.
With the subsidence of COVID-19 and the announcement of the ending of the Global Health Emergency by WHO in May 2023, the world has started to move on and embark on its path back to pre-COVID normalcy. However, some of the lessons the pandemic has brought are hard to forget. One such lesson, and more importantly, an issue that demands attention and action, is the prevalent price disparity of COVID-19 tests in low-income regions of the world, such as Africa compared to some more affluent countries, such as the USA.
High tests prices across Africa in comparison with prices in more developed parts of the world, such as the USA, have become evident after the onslaught of COVID-19 on the African continent. To illustrate this with an example, the average selling price of SD Biosensor’s STANDARD M nCoV Real-Time Detection kit comprising 96 tests per kit in the USA is US$576 compared to US$950 in African countries. This translates to a unit price of US$6 in the USA compared to US$9.9 in African countries amounting to a 65% difference between the price points in the two regions. The price disparity in Africa vis-à-vis the USA ranges from +30% to over +60% in the case of PCR-based COVID-19 tests in our sample when compared to the prices of the same products that are being sold in the USA. This leads to the crucial question of why these tests are so costly in a place where they should be sold at a lower price, if not donated owing to the continent’s less fortunate economic standing.
Inflated COVID-19 Tests Prices in Africa Why and What Now by EOS Intelligence
The Why: Reasons for inflated price in Africa
Several factors such as Africa’s heavy dependence on medical goods imports, limited number of source countries exporting medical goods to the continent, paucity of local pharma producers, higher bargaining power of foreign producers enabling them to set extortionate prices, shipping and storage costs, and bureaucratic factors drive the inflated prices of COVID-19 test kits in African countries.
Africa is heavily dependent on imports for its diagnostic, medicinal, and pharma products. To elucidate this, all African countries are net importers of pharma products. Additionally, the imports of medicines and medical goods, such as medical equipment, increased by around 19% average annual growth rate during the span of 20 years, from US$4.2 billion in 1998 to US$20 billion in 2018.
In 2019, medical goods accounted for 6.8% of total imports in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) whereas they accounted for only 1.1% in exports. The SSA region experiences a varied dependence on the imports of medical goods. This is evident from the fact that Togo and Liberia’s share of imports of medical goods was around 2% while that of Burundi was about 18% in 2019.
The 2020 UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission of Africa) estimates suggest that around 94% of the continent’s pharma supplies are imported from outside of Africa and the annual cost is around US$16 billion, with EU-27 accounting for around 51% of the imports, followed by India (19%), and Switzerland (8%). This means that only 6% of the medicinal and pharma products are produced locally in the African continent, creating a situation where foreign producers and suppliers have drastically higher bargaining power.
This became particularly evident during the 2020-2022 COVID-19 pandemic, when the demand for COVID-19 tests was extremely high compared to the supply of these tests, making it easier for foreign suppliers to set an exploitative price for their products in the African continent.
The lack of competition and differentiation in the region aggravated the situation further. There are only a handful of suppliers and producers in the continent that provide COVID-19 tests. To elucidate this further, there were only 375 pharmaceutical producers in the continent as of 2019 for a population of over 1.4 billion people. When compared with countries with similar populations such as India and China, which have around 10,500 and 5,000 pharmaceutical companies, respectively, the scarcity in the African continent starts to manifest itself more conspicuously. To illustrate this further, only 37 countries in Africa were capable of producing medicines as of 2017, with only South Africa among these 37 nations able to produce active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to some extent, whereas the rest of the countries had to depend on API imports.
Furthermore, the SSA region gets medical goods supplies from a small number of regions such as the EU, China, India, the USA, and the UK. As of 2019, over 85% of the medical goods that were exported to SSA were sourced from these five regions. It is interesting to note that the source countries slightly differ for the SSA region and the African continent as a whole, with the EU and India being the common source regions for both. With a 36% share in all medical goods imports to the African continent in 2019, the EU is the top exporting region of medical goods to SSA, albeit with a declining share over the last few years. India and China share the second spot with a 17-18% share each in all medical goods imports supplied to SSA in 2019. Considerable concentration is observed in the import of COVID-19 test kits to SSA, with a 55% share in all medical goods imports supplied by the EU and a 10% share by the USA in 2019.
To provide a gist of how the above-mentioned factors attributed to the inflated prices of COVID-19 tests in the region, Africa’s medical goods industry being import-driven is heavily dependent on five regions that supply majority of the medical goods needs of SSA. In addition to this, the scarcity of local pharma producers across the continent aggravated the situation further. This in turn gave an opportunity for foreign producers to charge a higher price for these COVID-19 tests in Africa.
Additionally, storage and shipping costs of COVID-19 tests also play a significant role in the pricing of these tests. The actual share of shipping and storage costs is difficult to gauge owing to the fact that there is not enough transparency in disclosing such pieces of information by test producers and suppliers.
Another aspect contributing to the inflated prices of these tests in African countries is bureaucratic factors. According to Folakunmi Pinheiro, a competition law writer based in Cambridge, UK, some African state governments (such as in Lagos) take exorbitantly high cuts on the sale of COVID-19 tests allowing labs to keep no more than 19-20% of the profits per test after covering their overhead costs such as electricity, IT, logistics, internet, salary, and consumables costs including PPE, gloves, face masks, etc.
Since labs in Africa must purchase these tests from foreign producers, they have a limited room for maneuvering with their profit margin, given the high test price and the cuts imposed by the local governments. Pinheiro further simplifies the profits in absolute terms. The cost of a PCR-based COVID-19 test, analyzed in laboratories (not at-home tests), in Lagos in February 2022 was around NGN45,250 (~US$57.38) and the labs selling and performing these tests on patients would make a profit of around NGN9000 (~US$11.41) per test which translates to 19.89% of the total cost of the single test. It is believed that this profit is after the overhead costs are covered implying that the majority of the profits go to the state government of Lagos.
The What Now: Reactions
To combat the inflated prices of COVID-19 tests developed by foreign producers, many African price and competition regulatory organizations undertook efforts to reduce the prices of these tests to a significantly lower level in their respective countries. While R&D was ongoing for the making of groundbreaking low-priced alternative testing technologies that were ideal for African climate and economic conditions, many academic institutes tied up with foreign companies to launch these tests in the African markets. Additionally, the African Union (AU) and Africa CDC had set new goals to meet 60% of the vaccine needs of the continent domestically by fostering local production by 2040. Lastly, many African countries were able to eliminate or reduce import tariffs on medical goods during the pandemic for a considerable amount of time.
From price or competition regulatory bodies
As a response to the high PCR-based COVID-19 test prices in South Africa, the country’s Competition Commission (CCSA) was successful in reducing the prices for COVID-19 testing in three private laboratories namely Pathcare, Ampath, and Lancet by around 41%, from R850 (~US$54.43) to R500 (~US$31.97) in January 2022. The CCSA asked these private clinical laboratory companies for financial statements and costs of COVID-19 testing, as part of the investigation that started in October 2021. CCSA further insisted to remove the potential cost padding (an additional cost included in an estimated cost, due to lack of sufficient information) and unrelated costs and thus arrived at the R500 (~US$31.97) price. Furthermore, the CCSA could significantly reduce the price of rapid antigen tests by around 57% from R350 (~US$18.96) to R150 (~US$8.12). However, it is believed that there was still room for further reduction in rapid antigen test price because the cost of rapid antigen tests in South Africa was around R50 (US$2.71). Although the magnitude to which this price reduction was possible is hard to analyze owing to the fact that there was not enough transparency in revealing the cost elements by these test producers.
From local producers, labs, and academia-corporate consortia
Africa being a low-income region with lower disposable income compared to affluent countries in addition to the unfavorable African climate, local scientists strive to develop alternative, low-cost testing solutions with faster TAT and minimal storage needs.
African scientists were believed to have the potential to develop such cheaper COVID-19 tests, having had the necessary know-how gained through the development of tests for diseases such as Ebola and Marburg before. The high prices of COVID-19 tests in the African markets have compelled local universities to tie up with some foreign in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) producers to develop new, innovative, low-cost, alternative technologies.
To cite an example, the Senegal-based Pasteur Institute developed a US$1 finger-prick at-home antigen test for Covid-19 in partnership with Mologic, a UK-based biotech company. This test does not require laboratory analysis or electricity and produces results in around 10 minutes. This test was launched in Senegal as per a December 2022 publication in the Journal of Global Health. Although this test’s accuracy cannot match the high-throughput tests developed by foreign producers, the low-cost COVID-19 tests proved to be useful in African conditions where large-scale testing was the need of the hour and high-temperature climate was not conducive to cold storage of other types of tests.
Countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda tried to increase their testing capacity with their homegrown low-cost alternatives as the prices of the tests developed by foreign manufacturers were exorbitantly high. Senegal and Uganda stepped up to produce their own rapid tests while in remote areas of Nigeria, field labs with home-grown tests were set up to address the need for COVID testing that remained unaddressed because of the high prices of the foreign tests.
Dr. Misaki Wayengera, the pioneer behind the revolutionary, low-cost paper strip test for rapid detection of filoviruses including Ebola and Marburg with a TAT of five minutes, believes that a low-cost, easy-to-use, point-of-care (POC) diagnostic test for detecting COVID-19 is ideal for equatorial settings in Africa providing test results within a shorter time span while the patient waits. He spearheaded the development of a low-cost COVID-19 testing kit with a TAT of one to two minutes along with other Ugandan researchers and scientists.
From the African Union and CDC Africa
As an aftermath of the adversities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, African Union (AU) and African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Africa) put forth a goal of producing 60% of Africa’s vaccine needs locally by 2040. A US$ 45 million worth of investment was approved in June 2023 for the development of vaccines in Africa under the partnership of Dakar, Senegal-based Pasteur Institute (IPD), and Mastercard Foundation. The goal of MADIBA (Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunization and Building Autonomy) includes improving biomanufacturing in the continent by training a dedicated staff for MADIBA and other vaccine producers from Africa, partnering with African universities alongside fostering science education amongst students in Africa.
Additionally, US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) in partnership with the World Bank Group, Germany, and France, announced in June 2021, a joint investment to scale up vaccine production capacity in Africa. The investment was expected to empower an undisclosed South African vaccine producer to ramp up production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to over 500 million doses (planned by the end of 2022).
From FTAs such as Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement
Intra-regional trade within Africa (as opposed to overseas trade) from 2015 to 2017 was only 15.2% of total trade, compared to 67% within Europe, 61% within Asia, and 47% within the Americas. While supply chain disruptions hampered the availability of COVID-19 testing kits, many African nations could develop home-grown solutions locally to address the issue. Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was set up on January 1, 2021 with the intention of improving intra-regional trade of goods including medical supplies. AfCFTA, the largest FTA after WTO, impacts 55 countries constituting a 1.3 billion population in an economy of US$3.4 trillion. Inadequate intercontinental collaboration is one of the primary restraints for medical supply chains. In order for health systems to fully capitalize AfCFTA, partnerships with the African Union’s (AU) five Regional Collaborating Centers and current global healthcare organizations need to be increased.
From state governments
Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest MFN (most favored nation) tariff rate (9.2%) on medical goods, compared to developed nations’ tariffs (1.9%) as well as emerging economies’ tariffs (6.6%). However, out of 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, only eight countries could remove or decrease import tariffs and value-added taxes on medical goods on a temporary basis to aid the public health situation during the pandemic in 2020, as per Global Trade Alert. These eight countries include Angola, Chad, Malawi, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia. In three of these eight countries these measures had already expired as of April 2021. Furthermore, to promote intra-regional trade, 33 Sub-Saharan African countries provide preferential tariff rates of around 0.2% on average on some medical products. At the same time, the average MFN tariff rate for the same medical goods is around 15% for these Sub-Sahara African countries.
Since the demand for COVID-19 test kits was significantly higher compared to their supply, producers and suppliers had a higher bargaining power because of which they set an extortionate price. However, that being said, African competition authorities did their best to curb the prices although there was still scope for more.
Secondly, policy changes need to be brought about at the state level to allow increased competition in the African markets which in turn would lower the price of the tests. African governments need to consider a more patient-centric and consumer-protective approach wherein competition is likely to facilitate the launch and consequent market uptake of better-quality products that are available at lower price points.
Additionally, prices and costs of COVID-19 tests should be monitored on a regular basis. The underlying problem of inflated COVID-19 test prices is likely to cease only when competition in the PCR testing sector is encouraged and government policies of pricing the tests are more patient-oriented.
Moreover, robust intra-regional trade coupled with strong local manufacturing and lower trade barriers is expected to help build a more sustainable health system in Africa.
Globally, electronics are discarded at alarming rates, generating unprecedented amounts of e-waste. On the other side, finite resources such as minerals and metals, which are used to make these electronics, are getting depleted. To foster sustainability across the electronics value chain, many tech companies are adopting strategies such as incorporating long-lasting product design, using recyclable and biodegradable materials, using clean energy for power generation, etc. However, sustainable electronics concept is still in a nascent stage of adoption and a lot of work needs to be done. Strict legislations, cross-sectoral collaborations, organizations facilitating networking and knowledge sharing, and changes in business models are needed to implement sustainability across various business units in the electronics industry.
Growing need for sustainability in electronics
Global consumption of electronics is rising exponentially and is expected to double by 2050. This increase is set to adversely affect the environment leading to more mining of raw materials, an unprecedented increase in e-waste, and increased carbon emissions during manufacturing.
Globally, people are discarding electronics sooner than before due to availability of new electronics, owning outdated models, obsolescence, etc. Over the last few years, nearly 50 million tons of e-waste has been generated annually. Only 17% of this e-waste is recycled globally, and the rest is transported and dumped in developing countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and India, which do not have adequate facilities for processing and handling e-waste. This e-waste ends up in landfills accounting for approximately 70% of hazardous chemicals and pollutes the air and water streams. Moreover, e-waste generated globally contains recyclable or reusable raw materials, scrap rare earth metals, plastics, and valuable elements, which are valued at US$62.5 billion per year.
Given the economic and environmental cost of e-waste as well as responding to growing consumer preference for sustainable products, several companies are looking to transition to sustainable electronics. Sustainable electronics are products that are made using recycled or reusable and biodegradable materials as well as products that generate low carbon emissions during manufacturing and distribution.
Sustainable electronics transforming consumer tech companies by EOS Intelligence
Recycling, clean energy power, and modular design for sustainable electronics
Over the last few years, consumer tech companies have been adopting many strategies for manufacturing electronics sustainably. In 2021, tech giants, Cisco, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, and many others, together formed a “Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP)” to accelerate the circular economy for electronics by 2030, and to help businesses and organizations overcome barriers to sustainable electronics.
Several companies are looking to increase the life span of their smart phones to make them more sustainable. Increasing the phone’s life span by two years can reduce carbon emissions to a great extent, as 80% of the carbon emissions come during manufacturing, shipping, and the first year of phone usage. Fairphone, a Dutch-based smart phone manufacturer, has introduced smart phones with a lifespan of approximately 5 years, higher than the average lifespan of 2.5 years. Similarly, Teracube, a US-based sustainable smart phone manufacturer has launched phones that can last up to 4 years.
Many companies are also designing their products with modularity, which allows users to repair, upgrade, customize, and disassemble their gadgets easily. For instance, Framework Computer, a US-based laptop manufacturer, sells laptops that can be upgraded. The company offers upgrading kits that contain laptop main boards and top covers, to customize the device as per the user’s need. Similarly, Fairphone manufactures modular smart phones, which are easy to repair and upgrade. These kinds of gadgets eliminate the user’s need to buy new ones, saving both costs and wastage.
There is also an increased interest among consumer electronics companies to use recycled materials in various products. Sony, a Japan-based multinational corporation, has developed a recycled plastic, SORPLAS, and is using it in a range of its products such as audio systems, and televisions since 2011. In 2022, Logitech, a Swiss-American manufacturer of computer peripherals and software, used recycled plastic in 65% of its mice and keyboards. Similarly, in 2021, Acer, a Taiwan-based electronics corporation, launched a series of PCs named Vero, which uses recycled plastics for the chassis and keycaps. Acer also launched the Earthion program, an eco-friendly initiative, in the same year and started working closely with suppliers and partners to bring various sustainability measures in product design, packaging design, and production. Tech giant, Apple, stopped selling chargers and headphones along with the iPhone in 2020 to cut e-waste. The company used 20% of recycled material in all its products in 2021 and uses robots to disassemble or separate metals from e-waste. There is 40% recycled content in MacBook Air with Retina display and 99% recycled tungsten is used for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series. Samsung, a multinational electronics corporation, is using recycled plastics in refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, TVs, monitors, and mobile phone chargers.
Due to this increased demand for recycled materials, recycling companies are receiving investments to a significant extent. In 2021, Closed Loop Partners, a US-based investment firm, invested an undisclosed amount in ERI, a US-based electronics recycler that supplies materials to companies such as Best Buy, Target, and Amazon, to extend the capacity for the collection and processing of electronics. Similarly, in 2022, Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF), an investment fund focused on small to medium-sized Australian businesses, invested US$7.5 million in Scipher, an Australia-based urban mining and e-waste recycling business.
Significant activity has been happening in the refurbished electronics market as well due to the rising consumer awareness of sustainability. Trade-in and refurbishment reduce e-waste piling up at landfills, as it limits buying newer gadgets and thereby paves way for greater sustainability across the electronics industry. Back Market, a France-based marketplace of renewed devices (which provides refurbished devices with a one-year warranty), has raised over US$1 billion since its launch in 2014. In 2022, Verdane, European specialist growth equity investment firm, announced an investment worth US$124 million in Finland-based Swappie, a re-commerce company that sells previously owned, new, or used smart phones. Vodafone too announced a major initiative to extend the life of new mobile phones and to encourage customers to trade in or recycle their old devices. The company is planning to provide customers in European markets with a suite of services, including insurance, support, and repairs for their devices in 2022. Samsung collaborated with iFixit, online repair community for its self-repair program in 2022. The company said that under this program, Galaxy device owners in the USA can make their own repairs to the Galaxy Tab S7+, Galaxy S20, and S21 products using easy-to-repair tools available from iFixit.
Tech companies have also started transitioning to renewable energy and looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. Intel, a US-based technology company, uses green energy of up to 3,100,000 MWh annually in the manufacturing of processors and computer accessories. Samsung’s facility operations in the USA and China switched to 100% renewable energy in 2019. In 2021, Microsoft entered into a partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to reduce carbon emissions in the organization’s supply chain. IFC is said to work with selected Microsoft suppliers in emerging markets, primarily in Asia, to identify technical solutions and financing opportunities to reduce emissions in the production process.
Legislation to aid the shift toward the circular economy in electronics
For years, many countries did not have appropriate policies enforcing sustainability across the electronics industry. Nevertheless, the trend is reversing with several countries adopting legislation for the circular economy. For instance, in 2020 the European Commission announced a circular electronics initiative that would promote eco-design (a design that considers environmental aspects at all stages of the product development), right-to-repair rules, including a right to update obsolete software, and regulatory measures on universal chargers, to name a few. France became the first European country to pass the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Act (AGEC) in 2020, which requires producers of electronic devices to provide details on how repairable their products are. According to AGEC, manufacturers are required to scale their products at a rate of 1-10 based on the reparability index. France also plans to introduce a durability index by 2024, whereby manufacturers would be asked to describe the full lifecycle of their products. Moreover, the US government passed an order in 2021 to draft regulations that protect the consumer’s right to repair electronic devices and other tools.
It is not easy to manufacture sustainable electronics
While sustainable electronics are the need of the hour and several leading players have already started promoting and investing in this space, the sector faces many challenges. Currently, there are no established standards, concepts, or definitions concerning sustainable electronics and there is no strict legislation to enforce sustainability practices in the electronics industry. There are some rating systems that identify energy-efficient products followed in USA and Europe (for example, USA’s ENERGY STAR program). However, registering and complying with the ratings and their requirements is up to the manufacturer and is not mandatory. Moreover, e-waste regulations in several countries are poorly enforced due to low financing, and illegal practices such as dumping e-waste, and incineration by the informal sector still persist.
Most electronics companies are also not transparent about their environmental performance, and impact is often hidden. The term ‘sustainable’ is widely misused as a promotional tactic by companies targeting environmentally conscious consumers.
The electronic industry also operates on a linear established model, wherein products are manufactured (with planned obsolescence) and sold to consumers. Incorporating circular strategies for recycling and reuse requires a lot of remodeling and reconfigurations across the supply chain and the rising consumption of electronic devices makes it difficult to adapt to any new changes. Challenges, such as complex recycling process, costs of recycling, and consumer perception of green electronics also hamper sustainability development. Most electronics are not designed for recycling and are made of a complex mixture of materials such as heavy metals, highly toxic compounds, glass, plastics, ferrous and nonferrous materials, etc. Recycling these materials is tedious and involves several steps such as dismantling, removing the hazardous waste, shredding into fine materials, and sorting the materials into various types. The process is also resource and cost-intensive requiring human labor, more processing time, and requires adequate infrastructure such as various material screening types of equipment. Recycling e-waste could also be polluting, with potential exposure to toxic metal fumes.
Finally, the perception of consumers about sustainable electronics also needs to be changed, which is challenging. There is a notion among customers that the use of recycled, sustainable materials in electronics means products would be of lower quality. A lot of investment would be required to educate and convince consumers about the benefits of sustainable electronics and to address any concerns about quality. In most cases, it is difficult to pass on these costs to the consumers as they are unlikely to accept higher prices. Thus, this cost would be required to be absorbed by the companies themselves. Due to this, most current initiatives toward sustainable electronics can be best described as half measures.
The economic benefits of sustainable electronics are enormous. The resource scarcity and the price fluctuation of various minerals and metals make them necessary to recycle, recover, and reuse in the circular economy. Over the last few years, consumer electronics manufacturers have taken many sustainability initiatives such as reducing energy consumption, eliminating hazardous chemicals, introducing biodegradable packaging, incorporating recycled and recyclable materials in products and investing in renewable energy projects. Also, refurbished electronics segment is growing fast, while interest is surging in introducing devices with built-in reparability. While several small initiatives are being taken by leading players, electronics manufacturers mainly do not know how to introduce sustainability across their products in a mainstream fashion.
Sustainability in electronics has still a long way to go. Several legislative initiatives are underway toward a circular (sustainable) electronics economy and it is high time for electronics manufacturers to be proactive and rethink their business models. A complete business model transformation is required to integrate sustainability across every unit. Cross-sector collaborations with stakeholders such as product designers, manufacturers, investors, raw material producers, and consumers are crucial to understanding the technical know-how. It is essential to analyze the entire life cycle of products from choosing raw materials to their disposal and to prioritize circular strategies for such products. Electronic manufacturers also need to come up with creative and rewarding ways for consumers to be willing to choose sustainable products as in the end, the industry cannot flourish without consumer acceptability. The future of sustainable electronics can be bright and manufacturers who see this as a potential business opportunity rather than a problem will benefit in the long term.
Upcycling, a growing trend in the food industry, uses surplus food and food by-products to produceproducts such as dietary supplements, beauty products, nutraceuticals, or animal feed. Food businesses are looking at upcycling as one of the strategies to reduce the amount of food waste they generate. However, they face continued challenges around unmarketable ingredients, process costs, and consumer acceptance. To ensure success of this niche sector, fostering partnerships to collect food by-products, collaborating with government institutions for technical know-how along with initiatives that promote upcycled food waste products could go a long way.
Burgeoning need for upcycling food waste
UN estimates that nearly 33% of the food produced globally each year is either lost (in the form of any edible food that goes uneaten, crops left in the field, food that gets spoiled in transportation or does not make it to the stores) or wasted (food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance, food left on the plate at restaurants, and scraps from food preparation at home). This accounts for 1.3 billion tons of food worth approximately US$1 trillion, enough to feed 3.5 billion people.
Moreover, food wastage contributes to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a huge burden on the environment and natural resources. As more and more food waste ends up in landfills, it produces methane, considered to be eight times more harmful than carbon, thus contributing more to global warming than automobile emissions.
Upcycling is one way that can help mitigate the ill effects of food waste, to a certain extent. Upcycling uses food by-products, produce with visual imperfections (produce often unattractive to sell due to color or appearance), food scraps, and surplus food to make new products. It is forecast that, in 2022, the market size for products made from food waste will be approximately US$53 billion and is expected to reach US$83 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 4.6%.
Upcycling – A New Trend in the Food Industry by EOS Intelligence
Repurposing food waste into value-added products
Driven by sustainability, repurposing food waste offers a plethora of opportunities for start-ups and other players to make value-added products such as beverages, food products, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, animal feed, cosmetics, and personal care products. Companies are coming up with innovative solutions to convert food by-products and surplus produce into something reusable and resalable.
In 2021, Nestle Australia launched a carbonated soft drink called “Nescafe Nativ Cascara”, which uses cascara, the husk of the coffee berry fruit which is discarded in coffee production. Another interesting upcycling initiative taken by Nestle Japan is “Cacao Fruit KitKat” which uses the white pulp surrounding the cacao beans (70% of the cacao fruit is wasted and only the beans are used to produce chocolate). Moreover, in June 2022, Barry Callebaut, a Belgian-Swiss chocolate manufacturer, also launched whole fruit chocolate made from 100% pure cacao fruit.
Taking a step ahead, companies are also investing to set up research centers and business verticals that focus entirely on food waste upcycling. Nestle invested approximately US$4 million and expanded its R&D center in Singapore to focus on upcycling food waste and plant-based innovation. Another American-Irish agricultural corporation, Dole, is partnering with the Singapore Economic Development Board and has formed “Dole Specialty Ingredients”, a new business arm that uses food waste to produce specialty ingredients such as enzymes, seed oils, fruit extracts, etc.
Bakery industry is another sector that holds significant potential for upcycled food waste products. For instance, ReGrained, a food technology company, based in the USA, is using leftover spent grain from brewing beer and turns it into nutritious flour called ReGrained Supergrain+, which is then used to produce snacks bars. The company also sells this flour to other food producers. Another US-based food company Renewal Mill, uses byproducts of plant-based milk to develop high fiber, gluten-free flours which are used in cookie mixes.
Food waste is also used in beverage processing. WTRMLN WTR, a food processing firm based in the USA, uses watermelons that are discarded due to aesthetic reasons and upcycle them to make flavored water. WTRMLN WTR is currently available at 35,000 retail stores across the USA. Another UK-based brewing company, Toast Ale, uses surplus bread from bakeries to brew beer. To date, the company has salvaged approximately 2.6 million surplus bread slices that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Several companies also upcycle the not-so-appealing fruit or vegetables to produce food products such as sweet and savory snacks, condiments, etc. For instance, Barnana, a US-based banana snack company, uses bruised bananas and produces snacks such as dehydrated banana bites, plantain chips, and crisps. The company has used roughly 50 million metric tons of not-so-good-looking bananas and plantains since its inception in 2013. Rubies in the Rubble, a UK-based company, produces condiments such as plant-based mayo, apple relish, and spicy tomato relish from imperfect produce rejected due to size and aesthetics.
While most of the applications for upcycled food waste ingredients have been in baking, beverages, and snacks, other interesting applications are also emerging. For instance, Scraps, a start-up based in New York, USA, uses excess or bruised basil leaves and odd-shaped peppers to make frozen pizzas. Unilever uses ice cream, not used in the primary production process, and mixes it with chocolate sauce and white chocolate chips to create a new flavor called “Cremissimo”. White Moustache, a US-based yogurt company, makes probiotic tonics from whey, a by-product of yogurt. Austria-based Kern Tec, a fruit seed producer and processor, uses the pits of cherry, apricot, and plum, and transforms them into protein powders and oils.
Food waste can also be used to make products beyond food. Wastelink, a food upcycling start-up based in India, collects food waste from 300+ distributors and factories across India and converts it into nutritional-rich feed for animals. Over the past two years, the company has upcycled over 5,000 metric tons of food waste. Wastelink raised over US$1.2 million in seed funding in June 2022.
Food by-products are also finding its acceptance in the textile industry. Orange Fibre, a sustainable textile company based in Italy, has partnered with Lenzing Group, a producer of wood-based specialty fibers, to produce Lyocell fiber made from orange juice and wood pulp.
Japan-based PEEL Lab started in 2021, is another innovative start-up that upcycles plant and fruit waste into plant-based leather. The company’s products include bags and wallets (made from apple and pineapple leather), yoga mats (made from bamboo leather), and apple leather coasters.
TripleW, a biotech company based in Israel, utilizes food waste for the production of polymer grade lactic acid, which is further used to make Polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastics used in food and beverage packaging, car parts, toys, textiles, and kitchenware, among others.
Upcycling food waste has also found applications in the beauty industry. Circumference, a New York-based skincare brand started in 2018, sources unused olive leaves from California-based olive oil company Brightland, to produce an antioxidant extract, which is used in the brand’s cleanser. The company previously launched a moisturizer using leftover grape leaves. Another US-based skincare company, Farmacy, uses left-over apple extract in its cleansing balm. Klur, a US-based beauty brand, utilizes avocado and tomato seed oils discarded by the food businesses to produce cuticle oil. Another interesting use of food waste in the beauty industry is adopted by France-based beauty brand Kadalys, wherein they extract bio-actives from bruised bananas to be used in their skincare products.
Challenges concurrent with upcycling food waste
Upcycling food waste poses many challenges. Most companies in this space are small and have limited product mix due to lack of consistent supply of upcycled ingredients. Another concern is maintaining the quality or freshness of the ingredients throughout the product lifecycle. Since these are mainly by-products or scraps, doubts on how these are stored (whether in a temperature-controlled environment or what sort of hygiene procedures are followed, if any), transported, and handled prevail.
Consumer acceptance is another challenge pertaining to upcycled foods. Consumers are often reluctant to buy upcycled food products owing to concerns about the quality of the ingredients used. Educating consumers that upcycled food is not just made from food scraps or leftovers but also from by-products which are nutritious and safe to consume is a daunting task. Moreover, the general perception that upcycled products are often priced higher further reduces consumers’ willingness to buy them.
Upcycling food waste is slowly but surely gaining acceptance, but still needs to go a long way to get established as a mainstream market. Owing to its environmental and economic benefits, the trend of upcycling is here to stay. ReFed, a non-profit organization in the USA, which strives to reduce the food loss and waste across the USA, claims that just by converting food by-products such as spent grains, fruit or vegetable pulps, and rinds into a new ingredient or an edible food product could save nearly 1.87 million tons of food waste diverted to the landfills resulting in financial benefits of US$ 2.69 billion each year.
Food waste industry offers multitude of opportunities for partnerships and cross-sector collaborations among start-ups, established food brands, food producers, philanthropic organizations, and technology and supply chain solution providers. For instance, ReGrained, in partnership with USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) developed a patented technology to convert spent grain into flour.
Several companies are also partnering with food producers for a consistent supply of raw materials. For instance, Barnana is partnering with farmers across Latin America to procure bananas and plantains on a large scale. Food producers are also working together in order to reduce food waste. An example of this is Kellogg’s UK’s partnership with Seven Bro7hers Brewing, a brewery company based in the UK, to turn its waste corn flakes into beer. Moreover, retail stores such as MOM’s Organic Market, an organic grocery chain in the USA, have also started dedicating shelf space for upcycled food products.
In addition to partnerships, philanthropic organizations such as Upcycled Food Association (UFA) also play an important role in reducing food waste by educating and connecting upcycled food companies globally to become a part of the growing upcycled food economy. Formed in 2020, UFA strives to improve the upcycled food supply chain. Currently, the association is a network of more than 180 businesses from over 20 countries. Credited with launching the world’s first third-party certification program for upcycled food ingredients and products, “The Upcycled Certified Standard” in 2021, UFA has received preliminary approval (in February 2022) from USDA FSIS (The Food Safety and Inspection Service), to include their certification mark in the FSIS-regulated ingredients and products. As of February 2022, nearly 400 products are waiting to be certified by the UFA. This initiative aims at educating consumers about the impact of upcycled food on environment and the economic potential it holds.
Furthermore, in 2021, UFA together with ReFed also launched the “Food Waste Funder Circle”, a network platform for private, public, and philanthropic funders for educating, collaborating, and investing to raise capital needed to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030 within the USA. Such initiatives highlight that the upcycling food waste industry has immense growth potential.
In the long run, it seems that upcycled products made from food waste could become a part of day-to-day life. Global appetite for sustainability is increasing and so is the upcycled food waste industry. Eventually, it is all about building an all-inclusive food system for a sustainable future.
It took 60 days for global COVID-19 infections to reach 100,000, but this figure doubled in the following 12-14 days, and the addition of next 100,000 cases took only 3 more days. Because of highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus, testing became essential to keep the epidemic under control. As a result, there was a spike in global demand for coronavirus testing kits. As per McKinsey’s estimates, in May 2020, global demand for coronavirus testing was 14 million to 16 million per week, but less than 10 million tests were being conducted.
Industry was quick to respond to the rise in demand
The widespread outbreak of coronavirus required the manufacturers to develop and launch new testing kits in large volumes in a short duration of time. Diagnostics kit suppliers responded promptly to this spike in demand by developing new coronavirus testing kits. Roche Diagnostics, for instance, developed coronavirus test in about six weeks – such diagnostic tests generally take 18 months or more to reach regulatory review stage. In 2020, Roche developed a total of 15 solutions for coronavirus diagnosis.
Governments across the world eased up regulatory procedures for manufacturers in order to allow rapid development and commercialization of the coronavirus testing kits. This paved way for many companies to quickly launch new products to the market. For instance, a Korean firm, Seegene, developed coronavirus testing kit in two weeks and got approval from Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) in another two weeks’ time. Such approvals generally take more than six months in Korea.
Furthermore, standard regulatory process for approval of diagnostic kits in the USA typically take several months, but considering the public health emergency in the event of pandemic, the FDA issued emergency use authorizations to expedite the process of bringing coronavirus test kits to the market. Emergency use authorizations are like interim approvals provided on the basis of sufficient evidence to suggest a diagnostics test is effective and the benefits outweighs potential risks.
By the end of 2020, the FDA granted emergency use authorization to 225 diagnostic tests for coronavirus detection, including test kits developed by Abbott Laboratories, Roche, Cepheid, Clinomics, Princeton BioMeditech, UPenn, Inno Diagnostics, Ipsum Diagnostics, Co-Diagnostics, QIAGEN, DiaSorin, BioMérieux, and Humanigen.
Leading companies with adequate resources quickly ramped up their production capacity by multifold in line with the rising demand. For instance, a US-based firm, Thermo Fisher Scientific, increased the global production of coronavirus test kits from 50,000 per week in January 2020 to 10 million per week by June 2020. In 2020, Roche spent CHF 137 million (~US$149 million) to ramp up production capacity and supply chain for all COVID-19-related testing products.
Some companies also received government grants and private investment to scale up their production capacity. For instance, in July 2020, BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) received a US$24 million investment from the US government to scale up production of coronavirus test kits by 50%, thereby, enabling the company to produce 12 million test kits per month by the end of February 2021.
The pandemic encouraged the shift towards decentralizing diagnostics
While the test kit manufacturers were trying to achieve round the clock production to meet the demand, they struggled with global supply chain disruptions which were also induced by the pandemic.
Coronavirus testing requires several components including specialized chemicals and laboratory testing equipment. Roche, for example, manufactures coronavirus tests in the USA but procures components of the test kit from different countries. One of the important components of test kits is reagent, a specialized liquid used for the identification of coronavirus. Roche produces these reagents mainly in Germany and few other production sites located across the world.
Further, the test kits are often compatible only with company’s own testing equipment and systems. For instance, the Roche cobas SARS-CoV-2 test kit runs on the cobas 6800 or 8800 systems. The cobas 8800 system includes approximately 23,000 components which are procured from different parts of the world. In addition to this, the production involves 101 sub-assemblies and accumulated assembly time of about 450 hours each. Final production of these instruments from Roche takes place in Switzerland.
Manufacturing of a coronavirus testing kit involves complex supply chain. Spread of coronavirus forced countries to implement extreme measures including lockdowns and trade restrictions which impacted the supply chain of test kit manufacturers. Producing all the testing components and equipment at one place is near to impossible. For instance, the production of reagents involves highly sophisticated and sensitive processes, and thus, setting up a new production site to manufacture reagents on a large scale would take several months. Setting up a new production site and streamlining the procurement for such testing equipment and systems would take several years. Hence, the diagnostics firms upped their R&D activities in an effort to develop tests that could be conducted without sophisticated laboratory systems and equipment.
Moreover, the high demand for testing compelled the diagnostics practices to evolve far beyond the traditional laboratory-based business model. The need for community testing during the pandemic that challenged the operational capabilities of hospitals and diagnostics labs dictated the importance of decentralizing diagnostics for improved patient care. This gave rise to increased demand for point-of-care testing.
The two most widely used diagnostic tests for coronavirus detection are Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) and Antigen tests. RT-PCR test detect viral RNA in samples from the upper and lower respiratory tract, while antigen test is used to detect viral proteins in samples.
RT-PCR test is considered gold standard for coronavirus detection since the accuracy and reliability is high compared to Antigen test. However, RT-PCR test needs to be processed in a laboratory-setting and had turnaround time of several hours. Hence, there was a need for development of RT-PCR tests that could give faster results without the support of laboratory equipment.
On March 18, 2020, Abbott announced the launch of their first coronavirus test kit that was compatible with their system ‘m2000 RealTime’ which processed 470 tests in 24 hours and another ‘Alinity m’ system with capacity to run 1,080 tests in a 24-hour period. Since there was demand for more portable and fast testing solution, on March 30, 2020, Abbott launched a RT-PCR point-of-care test that ran on ID NOW system, which is the size of a small toaster. The test delivers results in 13 minutes or less. The test price is in the range of ~US$100.
Further, despite the limitations of accuracy and reliability, in some cases antigen test is preferred because there is no requirement of a lab specialist to conduct this test, thus making it less expensive, and the result is available in a few minutes. The industry saw an opportunity here and quickly developed rapid antigen tests that can be conducted at home without any assistance. For instance, in December 2020, the US FDA granted emergency use authorization to an Australia-based firm Ellume’s antigen test (priced at ~US$30) as first over-the-counter at-home diagnostic test for coronavirus detection. Soon after, Abbott also received emergency use authorization from FDA for its at-home rapid antigen test (priced at US$25) giving results in 15 minutes.
Other countries around the world also followed the suit by extending official authorization to the home-based tests for coronavirus detection. For instance, in February 2021, Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) granted special approval for the first time to antigen home-test kits developed by US-based Healgen Scientific as well as China-based firms Xiamen Boson Biotech and Hangzhou Laihe Biotech.
Coronavirus crisis accelerated innovation in the field of diagnostics
In a united fight against the pandemic, governments, private sector, as well as NGOs and philanthropists across the world stepped forward to raise funds to bolster R&D efforts in coronavirus diagnostics. As per data compiled by Policy Cures Research (an Australian firm engaged in global health R&D data collection and analysis), from January 2020 to September 2020, funds worth over US$800 million were committed for coronavirus diagnostics R&D. The firm also indicated that 450+ coronavirus diagnostics products were in R&D pipeline since January 2020 to December 2020.
With firms looking to capitalize on exponentially rising demand for coronavirus testing, the development of new diagnostics technologies beyond conventionally used tests (i.e., RT-PCR and antigen tests) picked up significantly.
For instance, in May 2020, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization to first ever CRISPR-based rapid test kit developed by Sherlock Biosciences. CRISPR, an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene editing technology which allows to alter the DNA. Sherlock’s rapid test is a paper-strip test (like a pregnancy test) which can be conducted at point-of-care and does not require any additional equipment for processing of the test. The test works by programming a CRISPR enzyme to release a detectable signal in presence of genetic signature for coronavirus.
In March 2020, US-based Surgisphere launched a smartphone app using Artificial Intelligence algorithms to detect coronavirus infection. This app confirms diagnosis by integrating the findings of chest CT scan and laboratory tests with clinical symptoms and exposure history. Preliminary studies found that the tool can detect coronavirus infection with 95.5% accuracy.
Further, application of nanotechnology for diagnosis of coronavirus infection is also underway. Canada-based Sona Nanotech developed a rapid antigen test using gold nanoparticles. This is a strip test that can be conducted at point-of-care and gives result in 15 minutes. Research is in progress to develop wearable sensors using nanoparticles for detection of coronavirus. In January 2021, University of California San Diego received US$1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a test strip containing nanoparticle that change color in presence of coronavirus. This test strip can be attached on a mask and used to detect coronavirus in a user’s breath or saliva.
Innovation wave was not limited to development of different types of tests but also expanded to consumables. For instance, in March 2020, HP (a company manufacturing 3D printers) teamed up with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School) to develop 3D printed nasopharyngeal swab (typically used to collect sample for coronavirus testing) and within 35 days the clinically validated swab was ready for use. By May 2020, these swabs were commercially available for the US market following the FDA approval. In June 2020, a Belgium-based 3D printing service provider, ZiggZagg, began to plan large-scale production of swabs on their fleet of HP 3D printers. By October 2020, the company had 3D-printed over 700,000 swabs for the Belgian market.
A market research firm, The Business Research Company, estimated that the global COVID-19 rapid test kits market was expected to reach a value of US$14.94 billion in 2020. Due to worldwide vaccination drive, the market is expected to decline at a rate of -54.9%, to reach US$1.37 billion in 2023.
Though the demand for coronavirus tests is expected to diminish eventually, it has supported rapid development of diagnostics infrastructure which will remain. In India, for example, only one laboratory was performing molecular assays for COVID-19 in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted that balance. By May 2020, some 600 Indian RT-PCR laboratories had been set up in an effort to help manage the pandemic, thousand-fold increasing testing capacity. The additional capacity will likely remain in place as the pandemic subsides, leaving the RT-PCR assay as the dominant method for diagnosing most viral infections in India in the future.
Furthermore, with surge in demand for the coronavirus testing, the provision of diagnostic services expanded beyond the purview of hospitals and laboratories. Mobile testing facilities and drive-through testing sites propped up with development of point-of-care diagnostics. For instance, Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the USA, offer coronavirus drive-thru testing at 6,000+ locations across the country. Further, there is high-demand for home-based testing.
Diagnostics firms riding high on the COVID-19 gains have been actively scouting opportunities to strengthen their positioning in the market and prepare for the post-pandemic world. High demand for COVID-19 test kits boosted the revenues of diagnostic companies, with Roche, Thermo Fisher, PerkinElmer, Hologic, and DiaSorin among the companies benefiting. With strong balance sheet, these companies went on with M&A flurry to advance their diagnostic portfolio and other core business verticals.
As the virus originated in China, the country was better prepared and first to develop relevant detection mechanisms. By the time the virus spread to the other parts of the world, Chinese companies were ready to export detection kits globally. Coronavirus outbreak helped China to penetrate major markets such as EU and the USA in which the indigenous diagnostics companies traditionally had a stronger hold. China was a net importer of diagnostic reagents and test kits in 2019. But in 2020, after the outbreak of coronavirus, China ramped up its production capacity of diagnostic reagents and test kits, and as a result its export growth increased by more than 500% and the country became a net exporter of diagnostic reagents and test kits by the end of 2020.
This indicates that the outbreak of the pandemic has shifted the market dynamics on many fronts. As the pandemic slowly subsides, some of these shifts might partially revert, however, the way testing is performed is likely to remain.
Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex good such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.
China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990’s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous to manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor intensive industries such as apparel.
The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID pandemic along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China made companies realize and question their dependency on China. In the beginning of last year, COVD-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in a considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.
Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.
Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:
In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift assembly of some iPad and MacBook to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.
In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).
Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products to be coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.
During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, Eastern Europe as well as planned facility in Indonesia.
Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which in fact gained momentum post supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops into Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.
In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.
The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor cost in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, along with the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.
Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production
In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.
In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.
In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.
On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed towards companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.
In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high value-added products back to the country and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.
Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete supply chain from China preferably back to the USA and in turn reduce their reliance of China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet and now with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regards to China in comparison to his predecessor.
In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.
Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.
Is it feasible?
While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.
Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country, but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.
While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate, but technologically advanced parts and components.
Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies especially with regards to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.
Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted in January to March 2020, it ramped up April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies on Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when in most cases normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.
Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.
Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., to expand their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.
That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.
A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low cost production with regards to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations, and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.
SARS-COV-2 has brought the world to a standstill. Technology and its creative uses have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining lives during the pandemic as well as combating the crisis. One such technology that has been in the forefront of the pandemic is blockchain. From mitigating supply chain issues with medicines and protection gear to facilitating transparency in donations to effectively tracking the spread of the virus and protecting patient privacy, blockchain technology is being applied across the spectrum to contain and manage the outbreak.
The current pandemic has brought to light many inefficiencies and limitations of the existing global healthcare systems, wherein governments across the globe are grappling to control the outbreak, challenged by the lack of a unified interconnected and trusted network to share data and track cases. Blockchain has several inherent properties, such as decentralized ledger, transparency, immutability, that make it suitable for handling and managing various aspects of containing the pandemic.
Global health authorities and governments across the globe are having a hard time gathering authentic data regarding tests and patient numbers, hospital beds, recoveries, etc. Currently, most of the data circulating is disparate, and comes from multiple sources, such as hospitals, labs, public, and media, instead of one authorized source. This is extremely damaging since this results in the creation of a great amount of inaccurate and duplicate data, which if trusted, makes the process of tracking and containment both time consuming and ineffective. This is counter-productive to the management of a disease that is as fast spreading as COVID-19.
Blockchain technology can come to play in effectively tackling this issue. Owing to its distributed and immutable nature, blockchain can provide a feasible solution for tracking the outbreak. Blockchain-based apps facilitate organizations across the globe to form a single connected network where data can be shared in real time and securely. Moreover, since data stored in blockchain is immutable, it is protected against unauthorized changes and its distributed nature ensures protection against fraudulent data (since each entry requires consensus algorithms and smart contracts). Lastly, blockchain efficiently manages high volumes of data (as in the cases of the COVID pandemic) in a real time basis, which cannot be managed using human resources.
However, in addition to these factors, the aspect that stands out the most and makes blockchain technology ideal for monitoring and managing outbreak-related information is the level of privacy it offers. People do not wish for their information to be shared publicly or be used for other purposes. Thus it is a challenge to get patients to collaborate with governments and healthcare institutions to share information regarding their condition and wellness. For instance, the Israel government recently permitted healthcare institutions to track citizens’ mobile phones to control the spread of coronavirus. This has raised concerns from human rights organizations as citizens are not comfortable with sharing their personal information.
Since blockchain uses a distributed ledger, which ensures accountability and transparency with regards to access to its stored data, the information shared through blockchain cannot be extracted or misused. Moreover, information stored in a blockchain cannot be hacked. This encourages patients to share information regarding their condition, symptoms, location, and underlying health conditions without fear of the information being misused or shared with any third-party.
Furthermore, information shared by patients in a blockchain network may not only be used for tracking the outbreak but also facilitate health centers study the disease characteristics and patterns to develop treatment and solutions.
For instance, WHO has been using a blockchain-based data streaming platform, called MiPasa, which facilitates the sharing of information amongst need-to-know organizations such as state authorities and health officials. The platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric and partners with IBM for blockchain and cloud platforms. The application cross-references siloed location data with health information to track and prevent the spread of the outbreak, all while protecting patient privacy.
In another example, Atlanta-based developer of blockchain-enabled healthcare applications, Acoer, developed an application called HashLog, which allows real time logging and data visualization of the spread of the infection. HashLog provides real-time updates on the spread of the disease by tracking movement of infected people to identify potential outbreaks and prevent further spread. The application uses the Hedera Hashgraph distributed ledger technology and each entry is recorded through a verified hash reference on the ledger, ensuring that the data is correct.
In addition to tracking and preventing outbreaks, blockchain also plays an important role in securing donations. From hospitals and state authorities with insufficient funds for medical supplies to economically-weaker sections of the populations losing source of income due to lockdown, the current pandemic has displaced a huge number of people across the globe. Thus in such times, donations play a critical role in sustaining livelihoods and providing healthcare supplies to the affected people. However, given fraud associated with donations in recent times, lack of trust is a common factor affecting success of donations. Several individuals want to help and donate, however, are discouraged due to fear of their money being misused.
For instance in India, the government and police warned citizens against several fake relief schemes that have been floating in the name of COVID-19 relief, some even mirroring the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. These kind of activities deter willing people from donating.
Blockchain technology can be used to effectively combat this issue. Since all transactions in blockchain are secure, transparent, and traceable, donors can track their funds and see where they are utilized. This gives confidence to donors that their funds are being used for the exact purpose that they intended.
One such example is Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain, which built a blockchain-based donation tracking platform for supporting government and hospitals (such as Tangshan People’s Hospital, Jiayu People’s Hospital and Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital) in the donation process. The platform has attracted more than US$2 million in donations.
Supply chain tracking
Blockchain technology has been deemed extremely useful in managing and tracing the supply chain in several sectors as retail (for more insights on this read our article Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry). However, given the current pandemic, the technology can also utilize similar functionalities and play a significant role in tracking of medical supplies.
Given the pace of spread of COVID-19, authorities and healthcare organizations across the globe have faced a shortage of medical supplies, such as masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, ventilators, testing equipment, as well as some medicines. This drastic increase in demand has resulted in distribution of large number of counterfeit and faulty products. Blockchain technology can play a significant role to combat this. Given the data provenance in blockchain and its immutable nature, it is possible to identify and trace back every touchpoint of the medical supplies to ensure its authenticity.
In addition to filtering counterfeit products, blockchain also helps streamline the supply chain process to ensure hospitals and doctors secure timely supplies to treat patients. Blockchain can provide real-time updates regarding demand so that medical manufacturers can adjust production levels accordingly. In addition, it can help fast-track supply chain contracts through the use of smart contracts, and facilitate faster payments, thereby improving the overall efficiency.
In February 2020, China-based AliPay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, launched a blockchain-based platform to facilitate the tracking of medical supplies required for fighting SARS-COV-2. The platform has improved trust within the medical supply chain since it records and tracks the entire provenance of preventive supplies including masks, gloves, and PPE kits.
Apart from medical supply chain, blockchain can also help limit supply chain disruptions faced by several other industries due to lockdown in several parts of the world. However, companies that are using blockchain for managing their supply chain have an advantage as they have better visibility into their complete supply chain and thereby can identify points of disruption in a timely manner.
Avoiding future pandemics
Blockchain is on the front line for fighting the current pandemic, but it also has the potential to prevent future disease outbreaks. Most of current healthcare surveillance systems across the globe are outdated and lack the required timeliness and efficiency in sharing information with local as well as international health enforcement organizations. Moreover, sometimes there is a question of deliberate delay in sharing of critical information.
To this effect, blockchain-based health surveillance systems can help mitigate future outbreaks. Since they operate on a decentralized ledger, the surveillance data is transparently available to health organizations across the globe in a real-time manner, without the fear of any political disruptions. Timely knowledge of a potential outbreak is the first and most critical step in preventing a similar situation in the future.
In addition to the above mentioned applications, blockchain companies along with institutions are developing creative solutions that help reduce challenges faced by people due to COVID in their day to day living. For instance, Toronto-based blockchain company, Emerge, launched a public safety app called Civitas, which assists the citizens and local authorities across Latin America. This app matches one’s official ID to confidential medical records stored in the blockchain to identify whether the person is allowed to leave the house or not. Thus the app allows police to verify if the person has a travel permission just on the basis of their government ID and without gaining access to the person’s medical records. The app also determines the safest time and day for going out for essentials for people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.
Moreover, as discussed in our previous article (Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) blockchain also is extremely useful in the virtual education scenario, which is now the new way of schooling for large part of students across the globe.
Blockchain technology has several inherent properties that make it ideal for helping to manage and combat the current pandemic. Its decentralized, traceable, and immutable properties make is especially desirable for managing contact tracing and outbreak tracking, which are critical in handling a pandemic efficiently. Moreover, the benefits of blockchain are further amplified when used alongside other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data.
However, despite its several uses, the issue of scalability plagues blockchain adaption at a larger scale. Blockchain is still a nascent technology and lacks high-level scalability. With COVID affecting most of the world, the current blockchain companies do not have that level of scalability to provide all-encompassing global level solutions.
Furthermore, blockchain technology does not operate alone and it needs to be configured with the operating legacy system at companies and other stakeholders. However, most legacy systems are relatively old and therefore do not support blockchain technology. Updating or reconfiguring a legacy system is a tedious process (both in terms of time and money) and companies may not want to tie up resources for that at the current time.
Given these drawbacks, blockchain may not be deployed at a global-scale level during this pandemic, however, its inherent benefits have made companies, authorities, and global health organizations ponder, explore, and evaluate its potential in managing such situations in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world largely unprepared, organizations and companies across the globe are gearing up to ensure this history is not repeated and blockchain technology has emerged as a critical part of the solution.
Sustainable food packaging has recently received an increased attention within the food & beverage sector. Most players try to make sure not to miss any chance of communicating their concern over plastic waste to the general public, showcasing their initiatives taken to curb the waste. Are such initiatives taken out of actual concern or are they just a move to position the brands right in the ‘environmentally-concerned’ market?
It is assumed that packaging is considered sustainable, if it meets three criteria of sustainability. First, it should be economically viable for the consumers as well as the manufacturers. Second, it should be socially acceptable in terms of ease of use, transporting, sorting, and storing. Most importantly, third, the packaging must be eco-friendly through the use of materials that are responsibly-sourced and reusable/recyclable, to reduce the environmental impact of the packaging.
Change fueled by multiple triggers
Food and beverage (F&B) and related packaging industry players have been under a growing pressure to be more transparent and to introduce changes to the way food products are packaged. Considering that a significant share of non-sustainable, non-biodegradable waste, especially plastic, comes from food industry, improving the packaging and transitioning to more eco-friendly solutions is becoming imperative, rather than optional, for increasing number of F&B companies.
At the same time, the pressure to reduce waste and protect the environment from non-biodegradable substances is creating new opportunities for the packaging materials producers and for F&B companies with regards to more relevant brand positioning in this highly competitive industry.
While a lot has been changing in the packaging sphere under the heat from environmentalists and legal requirements introduced by regulators, the role of an aware consumer exerting pressure through product scrutiny and shopping choices should not be underestimated in this process.
According to a report published in April 2019 by Globalwebindex, a market research company, there has been a rise in the number of consumers globally who are willing to pay more for eco-friendly/sustainable products (including their packaging), from 49% in 2011 to 57% in 2018. Consumer awareness is growing fast thanks to governments’ initiatives, educational media, and activists’ social media efforts, all of which have triggered an increased sense of responsibility amongst many consumers, who start to understand the importance of switching to eco-friendly and sustainable packaging.
Increasingly, consumer awareness is going beyond just passive understanding and translates into actions which have a real power to change F&B sector’s approach to food packaging. Consumers vote with their spending dollars and exert pressure by switching their loyalty to other brands, both of which approaches appear to be quite effective. According to the same survey by Globalwebindex, 61% of consumers are likely to switch from their currently-used brands to more environmentally-friendly ones if the latter score better on the environmental friendliness front. This shows that F&B companies really do need to re-think their product and packaging choices and start putting money and effort in sustainable solutions, if not from real concern over the environment, then for retaining consumer trust and maintaining brand values.
Big F&B brands appear to show initiative
The increased scrutiny over F&B companies’ packaging choices has already started bringing some results. Several major players are looking to invest in transforming their packaging materials to sustainable ones. Despite the challenges in bringing innovations into packaging materials and designs, and altering their supply chain, several F&B players are claiming to strive for their sustainability goals. Some claims may surely be genuine but some could possibly be a strategy to get the ‘sustainable company’ tag to stand out from the competition in the F&B industry.
Understandably, players are very vocal about their initiatives targeted at improving their eco-friendly standing to appeal to the environmentally-concerned consumers. F&B brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle, to name a few, have already announced time-bound plans to revolutionize their packaging models.
For example, in January 2018, the beverage giant Coca-Cola announced a goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle it sells globally by 2030. The company with its bottling partners started an initiative with a plan called “World Without Waste” that is focused on entire packaging cycle from designing and manufacturing of bottles to their recycling. For the execution of this plan, the company plans to educate the public on what, how, and where to recycle, teaming up with local communities, NGOs, industry peers, and consumers. Furthermore, under the plan of “World Without Waste”, the company aspires to create packaging from at least 50% recycled materials by 2030 and continue pursuing the goal to make all consumer packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.
In addition to this, in October 2019, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler, announced it would switch the carriers on its multipacks from shrink wrap to paperboard to reduce packaging waste. The company claims that with this switch it will remove about 4,000 metric tons of single-use plastic per year from its current supply chain. The paperboard packaging is planned to be certified from either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Similarly, in January 2019, Coca-Cola packaging partner, Coca-Cola Amatil Australia, announced to cease the distribution of single-use plastic straws and stirrers, and distribute biodegradable Forest Stewardship Council accredited recyclable paper straws.
According to a report by Packaging Gateway, Coca-Cola claims to have made 88% of the consumer packaging recyclable, while its packaging used 30% of recycled material by the end of 2018. Also, about 58% of the equivalent of bottles and cans introduced by the company into the developed markets were refilled, collected, or recycled during 2018. Overall, the company’s recover and recycle rate was said to be 56% in 2018 as compared to 59% during 2017 or 61% in 2014. This proves that with growing sales, Coca-Cola’s efforts might not make as much impact as the company would want the public to think.
Nevertheless, the company is undertaking further initiatives to improve its environmental score. It committed to invest US$15 million in Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that work upon curbing the plastic waste thrown into the oceans. Further plans of the company include increasing the use of recycled plastic in Australia by 2020.
In another example, PepsiCo also talks about becoming an environment-friendly company, announcing to use 25% of recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025. In order to meet its target, in September 2018, the company announced its participation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). The partnership focuses on stakeholders located in coastal economies, such as those in Southeast Asia, and its purpose is to help businesses, communities, and local governments redesign waste management to create circular models that include collecting waste and recycling or composting it to reduce waste streams to the oceans or landfills.
PepsiCo also announced other targets for improved sustainability to be achieved by 2025. These include to re-design all of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable, to reduce virgin plastic content by 35% across its beverage portfolio, and to amp up investment to increase recycling rates in key markets.
Apart from individual targets, another initiative was also launched in October 2019 jointly by a few beverage players. As reported by a publishing firm, William Reed, three beverage companies, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Keurig Dr Pepper, announced their partnership with World Wildlife Fund, The Recycling Partnership, and Closed Loop Partners under the “Every Bottle Back” initiative. This initiative, starting in late 2020, will include investment of US$100 million and will focus on sorting, processing, and collecting discarded plastic bottles in four US regions. The initiative also targets to educate consumers that PET bottles are 100% recyclable, easily remade into new plastic, bottles, shirts, shoes, coats, park benches, and playground equipment, by introducing pack label messaging.
Smaller players are emerging with packaging innovations
The pressure to embrace sustainable packaging is even greater for smaller and mid-size F&B companies, if they want to stay relevant to the customers, grasp their attention, and grow own market share. Smaller players in the industry seem to understand this and have proven to be more agile in introducing new products that focus on organic ingredients with sustainable packaging, while challenging big brands’ prices.
For example, in March 2016, Alter Eco Foods, a San Francisco-based chocolate-centric, healthy indulgence, and sustainability-oriented food brand, launched the first stand-up pouch made from renewable plant-based materials, designed for storing quinoa grain. This innovative pouch named “Gone 4 Good”, is not meant to be recycled but to be thrown in a composting bin where it will disintegrate within three to six months. Made from eucalyptus and breech trees for the exterior and compostable resin called “Matter-Bi” for the interior, the pouch has several green certifications. Apart from this, in early 2019, the company also transitioned its chocolate truffles packaging from non-recyclable plastic pouch to a recyclable paper box and claims to be looking for solutions to replace its current plastic Coconut Cluster pouch, since it is yet not recyclable or compostable. The company is determined to make all its products packed in 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by December 2020.
Another player, B.O.S.S. Food, a Texas-based nutrition bar company, started selling its premium nutrition bars in compostable wrappers made by TIPA (an Israel-based compostable packaging company) in 2017, focusing on ensuring the products’ packaging is environmentally safe. TIPA’s packaging is a bio-based blend with all the properties of normal plastic but is certified for both home and industrial composting through OK Compost mark by the TUV institute. The packaging also complies with food contact regulations in Europe and the USA.
Similarly, a UK-based beverage company named Earlybirds launched a 100% plant-based packaging for its breakfast drinks – bottles and lids made from sustainable sugarcane, over the span of two months of September and October 2019. The launch made the packaging 100% compostable as per EU biodegradability standards. The company’s advertisements claim that, under the right conditions, the bottle will breakdown in twelve weeks and it can be thrown in food waste bin and then composted at an industrial composter, reducing it back to soil. The company is the first in the UK to launch sustainable packaging for beverages.
These are just a few of several smaller F&B companies, which are focusing on bringing new packaging solutions to improve their rating as environment-friendly companies in the eyes of consumers. The initiatives are worth the effort, even though players face quite a few challenges in embracing sustainable packaging over traditional packaging.
Such challenges include higher costs, choosing the right material for packaging that must comply with the standards of environmental safety, as well sustaining the quality of the food product. It is estimated that the companies are required to spend nearly 25% more on the sustainable packaging than on the traditional packaging. This higher cost is attributed to major shifts in supply chain, including (but not limited to) procuring the raw material for packaging to collecting the used packaging for recycling. Another major factor contributing to higher costs of sustainable packaging is the R&D expenses that must be borne by the companies. The solutions still require a lot of research, as there are still very few commonly-used technologies and packaging products, thus a lot of players need to invent them. The companies need to invest considerable sums in developing an environment-friendly packaging material that is viable for their food product to sustain throughout the supply chain as well as shelf life, and (equally importantly) has the aesthetic appeal to grab the consumer’s attention.
But despite being smaller in size and having to deal with challenges, companies such as Alter Eco, B.O.S.S. Food, or Earlybirds have been investing extensively in R&D, a fact that resulted in several of them coming out with better and innovative packaging solutions. In fact, at times, smaller scale of operations works to these players’ advantage, as they do not have the constraint of having to convert the existing large-scale traditional packaging lines to ones suited to deliver new format or feature of packaging. Therefore, many efforts undertaken by smaller players seem to be converted into tangible solutions and launched more quickly and easily, also giving the companies a great marketing advantage over large F&B brands.
With the rise in awareness about plastic waste and environment safety among consumers, along with regulations formulated by governments across many countries to curb plastic waste, it has become paramount for F&B companies to enter the path of sustainability. At the same time, sustainability is becoming an important element of many companies’ marketing strategy to get ahead of the competition (or, increasingly, not to stay behind other players). The latter reason alone makes it no longer a matter of choice for F&B companies whether to keep assuring the public about efforts undertaken towards improving own sustainability rating across the supply chain.
Certainly, it is doubtful whether all these F&B companies are capable of actually achieving the claimed sustainability. On the one hand, there is a doubt if the scale of their efforts is relevant enough to bring about an actual change and not remain just a PR tool. On the other hand, the doubts seem to be really justified considering the challenges associated with achieving true sustainability goals.
The challenges range across many aspects. These include the complexity of the required changes in the supply chain, which involve both radical and incremental change, from manufacturers to users, owing to alterations in packaging materials and designs.
Another major challenge is the higher cost associated with changing the packaging materials from plastics to renewable or compostable materials. This starts with the development of the right product’s packaging material to ensure stable and long shelf life, and safe transportation with minimal waste, all of which is particularly challenging when dealing with food products. The costs and complexity of the task is further increased by the responsibility of creating an infrastructure for recycling of the packaging materials and taking the onus of collecting and recycling the packaging of own products, if not directly then through well-planned network of third-party entities.
Considering the complexity of these challenges and the high cost of going up the sustainability ladder, many F&B companies are likely to not be able (or to not want to) work towards full sustainability across their supply chain. In the midst of the growing pressure to meet the sustainability criterion, it is possible that some of the players might quietly opt for less sustainable solutions or stick to only those changes that are most visible to the consumer’s eye.