Navigating sustainable injection moulding

  • Articles
  • Jan 16,24
With the demand for injection-moulded products, especially in the medical devices sector, set to surge between 2023 and 2030, the industry faces a pivotal challenge — balancing cost-effectiveness with environmental responsibility, says Hemant Minocha.
Navigating sustainable injection moulding

In an era dominated by environmental concerns, the plastic manufacturing industry finds itself at a critical juncture, tasked with redefining its processes for a sustainable future. The imperative for change is underscored by the Journal of Clean Production's revelation that injection moulding may contribute up to 90 per cent of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) associated with the entire mould lifecycle. With the demand for injection-moulded products, especially in the medical devices sector, set to surge between 2023 and 2030, the industry faces a pivotal challenge — balancing cost-effectiveness with environmental responsibility.

As compared to other industries such as steel, cement, etc, plastic production and disposal emits around 3 per cent of global emissions. However, despite this relatively lower emission, concerns about industries’ contributing to climate change remains undeniable. 

The urgency of the environmental crisis requires immediate action from companies to transform their production methods. As brands commit to consciously embracing a more sustainable manufacturing future, they face the challenge of choosing the most effective approach to implement green practices. Luckily, technological advancements and digital innovations offer manufacturers a swift and efficient means to adopt green design innovations, enabling brands to expedite their journey toward a sustainable future.

In the quest for sustainability, innovative plastics processing methods play a crucial role. Closed-loop systems, energy-efficient equipment, recycled content, biodegradable plastics, and automation and AI integration are examples of initiatives that contribute to waste reduction and resource conservation. Collaborative efforts across the supply chain are key, as injection mould suppliers partner with clients to design products with durability and recyclability in mind.

Indian processing industry
India's manufacturing sector that is currently responsible for almost 40 per cent of the nation’s total energy consumption stands as a key driver of India's economic growth. However, this substantial contribution also designates it as a major emitter of greenhouse gases. As India aims to reach a $ 10 trillion economy with a targeted enhancement of the manufacturing sector, recognising and addressing global environmental sustainability goals becomes imperative.

The energy-intensive nature of manufacturing processes in India presents challenges, significantly adding to the country's energy consumption and carbon emissions. Traditional manufacturing methods often involve high energy usage, resulting in an expanded carbon footprint. This situation highlights the urgency for the industry to adopt sustainable practices aligning with both national and global environmental objectives.

In response to the environmental imperative, India's manufacturing sector has been steadily undertaking various measures to decrease its carbon footprint and champion sustainable manufacturing:

  • Adoption of energy-efficient technologies: Manufacturers are increasingly investing in energy-efficient technologies to optimise production processes. This involves the incorporation of advanced machinery and equipment designed to minimise energy consumption while maintaining or enhancing productivity.
  • Integration of renewable energy: A shift toward renewable energy sources is in progress, with increasing number of manufacturers integrating solar and wind energy into their operations for a cleaner and more sustainable energy mix.
  • Minimisation of waste and recycling: Manufacturers are implementing strategies for waste reduction, recycling initiatives, and closed-loop systems to foster a circular economy approach.
  • Emphasis on green supply chains: Many manufacturers are focusing on green supply chain practices, collaborating with suppliers committed to environmentally friendly processes. 
  • Investment in research and development: The sector is dedicating resources to research and development to explore innovative solutions including creation of eco-friendly materials, processes, and technologies aimed at reducing the environmental impact.
  • Government-led initiatives: The Indian government has introduced initiatives and policies to encourage sustainable practices in the manufacturing sector. This includes offering incentives for adopting cleaner technologies, promoting energy efficiency, and adhering to environmental standards.

After being approved by both houses of Parliament in India, the Energy Conservation (Amendment) Act 2022, which amends the 2001 Energy Conservation Act, came into force on January 1, 2023. The amendment empowers the central government to specify a carbon credit trading scheme, which aims to reduce carbon emissions. 

In addition, designated consumers, including those in the industrial and transport sectors, may be required to meet a proportion of their energy needs from non-fossil sources, and energy consumption standards may be applied to vehicles and ships. The Act seeks to facilitate the achievement of COP-26 goals and, by introducing concepts such as mandated use of non-fossil sources and carbon credit trading, to ensure faster decarbonisation of the Indian economy.

Through continuous investments in cleaner technologies, adoption of renewable energy, and the integration of sustainable processes, India's manufacturing sector is positioned to not only play a transformative role in advancing the country's economic agenda and but also in shaping a more sustainable future for India's manufacturing landscape.

Injection moulding & sustainability
Injection moulded plastic components are widely used by many industries and is also perhaps the most widely used processing technology. As with all industries, processors need to look to improve their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), and make sure every part of their supply chain, production processes and products is as sustainable as possible. Whether it's reducing their carbon footprint, using renewable raw materials or implementing a closed-loop control system, injection moulders are already taking action to make their businesses greener.

The dilemma of energy consumption: Hydraulic vs electric machines
Over 90 per cent of injection moulding costs is attributed to energy consumption, primarily electricity powering the injection moulding machines. The debate rages on regarding the cost and sustainability advantages of hydraulic injection moulding versus all-electric machines. While hydraulic machines boast lower initial costs and can produce higher energy levels, their Achilles' heel lies in high electric energy consumption throughout the moulding process. Striking a balance between business interests and sustainability is the crux of the matter.

Key sustainability values in injection moulding
Aligning with sustainability values involves rethinking injection moulding processes, materials, and end products. Design for Manufacturing (DfM) focuses on waste reduction, cost efficiency, and quality optimisation, aligning with the core values of sustainable design. Material selection plays a pivotal role, considering eco-friendlier options like biodegradable or compostable plastics, recycled plastic resins, and innovative materials.

Processors are also focusing in using energy- and water-efficient equipment, optimising efficiency losses, prioritising renewable energy sources, and leveraging automation and AI to minimise scrap rates. Closed loop systems contribute to waste reduction and resource conservation while collaborative efforts across the supply chain are key, as injection mould suppliers partner with clients to design products with durability and recyclability in mind.

The path forward: Innovation and technology
Embracing sustainable practices positions manufacturers not only to meet regulatory requirements but also to become integral assets to their communities. Many injection mould suppliers for instance are actively designing products for a circular economy, promoting longer lifespans and easy disassembly for recycling. This collaborative approach minimises the need for constant new plastic production and aligns with the growing industry standard of sustainability.

As sustainability becomes the new industry standard, injection moulding has the opportunity to leverage innovation and technology for a greener, cleaner manufacturing process and manufacturers of plastics remain committed to reducing environmental impact, enhancing operational efficiency, and contributing to a circular economy are poised for success in this evolving landscape. 

About the author:
Hemant Minocha is the Chairman of the Plastics Export Promotion Council (Plexconcil), which is the apex body of the plastics industry in India representing over 3000 exporters who manufacture/trade in plastics products ranging from plastics raw materials to semi-finished and finished items. The council has its headquarters in Mumbai with regional offices in New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Ahmedabad. Minocha is also the Director of Rajiv Plastics Pvt Ltd, a leading colour & additive masterbatch and polymer compound manufacturer in India.

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