We want less plastic! And more of… what?

Yes, what do we want instead? We can’t always replace plastic with a renewable material. Then what about recycled plastic, more sustainable plastic that is efficiently recovered and that comes from an organised collection system? Does that sound a bit better?

Coca-Cola is in the news with their new line of bottles entirely made from recycled PET. Fantastic! Coca-Cola Sweden is during 2020 switching to only use PET bottles with 100% recycled material for their leading brands, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Bonaqua, 40 SKUs.

This is not a small thing as using recycled material in food contact is a complex mission surrounded by of rules and regulations. The Swedish deposit system really helps here as it makes the recycling stream of PET bottles relatively pure.
Beverage bottles, and cans, are here collected and recycled separately and can in theory be turned back into new cans and bottles. Today around 85% of the distributed bottles are returned and recycled. Normally recycled PET tends to be cloudy due to unintended mixes and potentially tainted by other random plastic in the recycle process. This is avoided in a controlled stream like this.

In a recent report from McKinsey, “The drive toward sustainability in packaging—beyond the quick wins”, this is discussed, among other things. The report concludes that to successfully address the recyclability and waste challenges more collaboration is needed along the value chain. To manage increased recycling new infrastructure needs to be built and more closed system must be employed.

A closed and dedicated deposit system clearly makes recycling more efficient as it is separate and, closed. The Swedish deposit system is managed by Returpack, an organisation owned jointly by retailers and fillers together. When the deposit system was created also packaging converters were involved which makes it a good example of an efficient recycling structure.

Another brand owner who is blazing new trails in this field is Nestlé. The company is seriously investing in the development of new packaging concepts in their effort to have 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. The newly inaugurated Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences is unique and aims to support the process. The Institute is going to do its bit of development of functional and environmentally friendly packaging solutions and to address plastic packaging waste.

Nestlé is now investing a staggering €2 billion to explore the possibilities to widen the market for food-grade recycled plastics. The Institute will be involved but the main investment will be in driving the market for food-grade recycled plastics by boosting demand and by being ready to pay a premium.
They are now demanding 2 million tons over a period of time and are willing to pay for it, to create a market. Brilliant!

Plastic is at present needed, especially in the food industry to minimise food waste, and it is possible to create a circular economy also for plastics. To get there a system for collecting and recycling plastic must be in place. But there needs to be a corresponding demand as well. Today it is more expensive to use recycled materials than virgin. But with a higher demand and larger volumes the price should go down and thereby generate more demand.
Hopefully a process that creates a virtuous cycle spinning us towards a circular and healthy economy.

These are great examples of steps in the right direction to increase demand for recycled plastic materials. This will also drive the development of efficient systems for processing.
But, in the end, the consumers are going to do a big part of the job. We must not forget to inform and motivate to sort and return the empty packaging through this efficient system.

Twist and recycle

I think Evian was the first one out, now about 10 years ago. I am thinking of the PET bottle for water that was structured in a way that made it easier for the consumer to crush the empty bottle into a handy piece of plastic to dispose. But I haven’t seen a lot since, except for the I Lohas bottle from Coca-Cola Japan. http://bit.ly/Xretb

It is a shame because it is such a good idea, to have a packaging solution made for easy disposal. The I Lohas bottle scores even more points by being both light weight and made from plant material. I think the main point is that it is pre made to be easily twisted and compressed into a neat chunk to dispose. This is a packaging feature that strongly underlines the sustainable qualities of a product.

Soft Drinks explained in one graph

This post might lack a clear connection to packaging but it is such an interesting piece of work made by Philip H. Howard at Michigan State University. He has recorded and plotted the flora and fauna of soft drinks available in the Michigan area.

I can’t say that I agree with his point, which is that the variety and choice of soft drinks for the consumer is more imagined than for real when you look at the owner structure. But I like the way he has meticulously recorded and then visually displayed the universe of soft drinks. One of the best overviews I have seen. http://bit.ly/d9BY23

Pop goes the soda market

Carbonated Soft Drinks is a huge market but in decline. It has lately struggled to defend its shares against the tremendous growth of bottled water. Water demand is now flattening but CSD volumes seem to keep on going down.

This goes more for the US market, which is the largest by far, than anywhere else. According to Beverage Digest, CSD was 2.1% down in 2009 which is a bit better than the 3.0% down the previous year had to offer. Still not what you want if you are a CSD supplier, the volumes are now all the way back to where they were in 1996.

The big brands are also suffering the most, the top 7 brands aggregated market share has dropped and that on a falling market. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo suffered bigger volume losses than the market both in 2009 and 2008. They have recorded diminishing volumes for the last 5 or 6 years but during the same time they have managed to increase prices, way above the inflation. This can in theory compensate for the CSD giants lost volumes.