Packaging Waste & Energy Recovery in Brazil

Packaging is not trash – it is a valuable raw material!

IN interviews Fabio Mestriner, Professor at Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing (ESPM) in Brazil, on the value of packaging and its impact on today’s society, with a special focus on the Brazilian market.

“Today, packaging is as important as electricity,” proclaimed Fabio Mestriner. “Modern society cannot function without it. Without packaging, we wouldn’t be able to immunize a child, vaccinate animals, fight pests that destroy crops or even brush our teeth in the morning. Packaging is a key component of the society we live in.

Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country and the largest in South America, and it's turning to packaging to meet the challenge of rapid urbanization. “87 percent of the food consumed by Brazilians must be packaged,” added Professor Mestriner. “In Brazil only 13 percent of the population lives in rural areas–the rest live in cities. Therefore, the distribution of goods is done through retail networks, meaning items need packaging, bar codes, longer shelf lives and more. Rice, beans, lettuce, flowers, water …everything is packed, because of our urban lifestyle.”

With a population of over 200 million people, Brazil is one of the top global markets for consumer products. “Brazil is built on a consumer culture which is impacting future packaging trends. We are the fifth largest global market for pet food, for example. Brazil is the second largest cosmetics market,” stated Mestriner. “In addition, we are the largest market for perfume, surpassing the US. Did you know that Brazil is the second largest toothpaste market in the world?”

“Let’s not forget, one of the core functions of packaging is to beautify and add perceived value to the product,” added Mestriner. “Beauty is one of the main values of the world we live in, and packaging has an obligation to be aesthetically pleasing."

Waste and opportunity

The volume of packaging waste in urbanized areas as a result of this increased growth can be a challenge. “The majority of people believe that the composition of municipal waste is mostly made up of packaging; however, in a recent study we discovered that Brazil produces 190,000 tons of waste a day,” said Mestriner. “Of that, 52 percent is organic waste, meaning food leftovers. We are generally, as a society, unaware of the amount of food being wasted. For example, when we drink orange juice or eat fries we don’t consider the amount of peel wasted in the process.”

Packaging in Brazil accounts for 29 percent of total urban waste. Of this 29 percent, about 60 percent is returned to manufacturers for recycling. “As a global society, we already have a solution to the perceived packaging problem: packaging that can be recycled is separated and what is leftover can be incinerated and turned into energy. We forget that oil goes into making plastic packaging, meaning plastic containers are essentially an open oil reserve that can be recovered at any time. Steel turns into steel again. Glass turns into new glass. Aluminum returns to aluminum. Packaging is not trash–it is a valuable raw material!” explained Mestriner.

Trends that are shaping the future

The future of packaging is in integral design, utilizing different materials combined with new technologies to achieve the best outcome and performance. And sometimes innovations originate from a breakthrough of existing formats.

Mestriner continued, “Take the stand up pouch, for example, one of the fastest growing packaging applications in the world. Why is it so popular? Because it's a bag that stands up! By default, we tend to associate products that lie down as something with limited value; however, enabling the pouch to stand up completely changed its performance, and sales peaked.”

Professor Mestriner advises brand owners, materials suppliers and packaging designers to look beyond the consumer and study the specific packaging category before bringing new packaging applications to market. “Break down all the components of your innovation process and ensure there is supply available across the value chain. To achieve successful innovation, every link in the chain must be aligned when you propose new packaging, otherwise you are not proposing a new solution. Instead, you are creating a problem for the manufacturer of the product.”

"The determining factor for innovation in the industry is not technology,” concluded Mestriner, “It is courage. Innovation is a risk and only truly achieved by those who have the courage to take it.”


Fabio Mestriner
Professor of Packaging at ESPM

In addition to his role as Professor, Mestriner is a Brazilian designer with 38 years of professional experience. In addition, he is the Strategic Coordinator of the Brazilian Packaging Association and has authored numerous books. Having won multiple prizes for his work, Mestriner sat on the World Packaging Organization board between 2006 and 2008. In this edition of IN, Mestriner discusses the invaluable role of packaging in society, with a focus on the Brazilian market.