Binayak Mohapatra has been in the plastics industry for more than 25 years. He entered the reusables market in 2011 when he joined Schoeller Allibert.
Mohapatra: I’ve been working in the plastics industry for more than 25 years. Before I joined Schoeller Allibert in 2011, my work was for companies that made single-use plastic products. The concept of reusables appealed to me because it reduces the carbon footprint of products, and re-uses plastics in a manner that is sustainable.
I am an engineer by education and profession, but I have extensive operational, financial management, projects, logistics and product development experience in domestic and international establishments in the areas of food contact products, plastics, and chemicals. So joining Schoeller Allibert and working in the reusables market was a smooth transition for me.
I think it’s interesting that I started my career with a company that manufactured plastic resin, the first stage of the plastics lifecycle. Now I am with Schoeller Allibert where our plastic products are used multiple times and at the end of the product life cycle: they get recycled to produce new products thus starting a new product life cycle.
Editor: Schoeller Allibert is a very large player; you manufacture more than 1,000 products. What would you like readers to know about the company?
Mohapatra: The company has a long history in the reusables market. We created the first plastic crate in Europe in 1958, long before the reusables concept was common practice. Today, we produce the whole segment of possible reusable packaging, including a lot of customization for customers to fit their applications. And our technology is very innovative. We use sophisticated and proprietary molding technology, and we have manufacturing plants at different locations worldwide. We provide a whole 360-degree solution to customers, from the concept of the product, to production, to sustainable product life cycle renewal.
Editor: Tell us about the differences you see in the reusables industry in the different countries that use your products.
Mohapatra: Europe of course is smaller than the US. So from a distance point of view, there is often a possible advantage in the logistics chains and you see some industries there adopting reusables that have not done so yet in the US. And businesses in Europe have been using reusable packaging for a long time; now they are looking for continual improvement.
In the US, the idea of reusable products has to be expanded, attract more companies, and get potential customers familiar with the opportunities that the reusable concept brings. You need to show the examples of reusable products use and evaluate case studies. Then it comes down to the cost benefits, reduction in packaging waste, logistics improvement and sustainable solution. Companies in Asia are eager to accept reusable concepts, too. Potential cost saving is a big motivation for quick conversion.
Editor: One of your customers, Svenska Retursystem, won the RPA’s Excellence in Reusable Packaging Award this year. How satisfying was that?
Mohapatra: We are very proud to see them have formal recognition of their achievement. We have worked with them closely for many years; and we have many other customers with strong results. I think the award program is useful because it helps tell the story of reusables. It shows that it is not just a concept. It’s reality and it can be successful.
Editor: Do you see any new developments in the reusables marketplace in the near future?
Mohapatra: I think all signs show a positive market for people in the business of reusables. Many companies are becoming more open to the concept and are eager to learn more; that’s a change we need to continue to foster. In addition, gas prices are going down for the first time in a long time and that affects transportation costs. It will be interesting to see if the drop in oil prices also affects the cost of resin which went up significantly from 2003 to 2007. If resin prices drop, that will attract more customers and suppliers alike to the market.
Editor: What benefits does Schoeller Allibert gain by being a part of the RPA?
Mohapatra: The RPA is a platform to connect to other players in the industry. It’s an opportunity to share ideas and to talk about the common challenges that everyone faces and to explore collaborative solutions. The RPA also provides a unified “Reusable Concept” for marketing exposure.
Editor: Tell us why you volunteered to be a member of the RPA Board.
Mohapatra: I had a lot of experience in plastics, but I was new to reusable packaging when I joined Schoeller Allibert. The RPA gave me a high level of exposure quickly. Also, being part of the board keeps Schoeller Allibert involved in discussions about standardization and projects that we can participate in.
Editor: Are there any issues you would like the RPA to address in the future?
Mohapatra: The board has been discussing how we can make the future of reusable products and businesses expand in future. I think that’s an important discussion. The RPA can lead the way through better knowledge sharing for end users so they have more information about reusables. We can standardize on elements like labels on containers and a definition of what is considered recyclable plastic. Right now, those things are open to interpretation.
Editor: You travel a lot with work. What do you like to do when you are home?
Mohapatra: I really love gardening. We live in Phoenix, so we have sun almost 12 months out of the year. During the weekends, I like to go out in the mornings with my young son to work on the garden. And my wife and I just celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary.