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.

Rip, Remove and Recycle

Another new packaging stemming from out of the box pondering hit the shelves in February this year. GreenBottle in the UK has developed a bag-in-box packaging for milk to replace the normally used plastic bottles. The outer shell is made from paper which can be recycled, or is promised to decompose within a matter of weeks. The inner bag is made of recycled plastic which scores some extra green points. It also resulted in a carbon footprint 48% lower than that of a standard (plastic) milk bottle.

Since February the “bottle” has been available in selected Asda stores. Now reports have that sales of milk packaged in GreenBottle’s recycled paper and plastic hybrid design have tripled those of plastic bottles, even though they have sold at a premium.

Watch this bottle.

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.

Don’t trash this bag

On an afternoon stroll in London’s Camden Market I came across a colourful market stand promoting bags made of used packaging. I stopped by and got to speak to the man behind the idea of TrashyBags. TrashyBags is an initiative to do something of the situation in Ghana where the infrastructure to recycle used packaging is lacking. And they sure do, TrashyBags employs 60 people in Ghana who collect waste that can be used for making bags, backpacks and other useful things.

They collect and encourage the public to collect mainly plastic pouches and sachets that they wash and sterilise and turn into useful bags etc. Very creative and meaningful and does help the litter problem as well as it provides meaningful job opportunities. www.trashybags.org

Beverage packaging + environmental concerns = Opportunity

A recent study made by BeveragePulse.com found that all 94% of Americans are concerned about the long-term effects that their packaged beverage purchases and consumption have on the environment. This is a large number and concerning in itself.

The worst thing is that I don’t think this is an American thing. I think this is a more or less global viewpoint. Consumers are concerned about what they can see and feel and everyday packaging is definitely fitting that description.

To make a long story (report) short, recycling was cited frequently (45 %) as the most important environmental concern for packaged beverages. This is not a threat, this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity for the industry to support recycling of empty beverage containers. To make it easier to recycle and perhaps even incentivise it. Because, as the founder of BeveragePulse.com puts it. “Our research shows that consumers think about the environment when they are making beverage purchases; specifically, the findings indicate that consumers relate positively to packages that are easy to recycle. Beverage companies should start a full court press on recycling.”