Price will always be a driving force in business decisions. For instance, when the bottling and beverage sector made the switch from refillable glass bottles to those made of plastic, it was because the manufacturing and transportation of glass was expensive, inefficient and labour intensive. Plastic was the new innovative packaging solution – and despite the media slurs, it still is. We need to alter our perspective and embrace the material.
A government report in December 2017 stated that around 13 billion plastic bottles are used each year in the UK, but only 7.5 billion are recycled. This has been a missed financial and environmental opportunity for the UK, and consumers and industries are now rapidly recognising plastic as an important commodity.
As concerns grow over the wider environmental impact of post-production and post-consumer plastic scrap, we have already begun to see a shift in consumer purchasing trends and changes in legislation as a result. From start to finish, the bottling industry is finding that their processes are under severe scrutiny and sustainable solutions must be sought in order to survive the storm.
Companies understand that being a brand seen to be contributing to the destruction of our oceans and wildlife is bad for business and that action must be taken, but what are the hurdles currently preventing change?
Exports, volume and the price of oil
For one, until China closed its doors to waste imports in 2018, UK companies were incentivised to export their waste abroad, now they are forced to source alternative solutions with an infrastructure that is in its infancy and of which, they have little knowledge. Firms are having to undergo a process of re-education and re-evaluation in order to understand the comprehensive list of benefits that implementing a recycling solution brings.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, price plays a role. The price of plastic is influenced by the fluctuation in the price of oil, and the depressed oil prices has meant that virgin material cost less than recycled plastic. In order to meet both legislative requirements and consumer demand, brands will see their manufacturing costs inflate. This rings especially true with the new Government initiatives calling on producers of packaging waste to pay more towards collections and recycling processes. However, the upside to this, is that products meeting the demands, and brands delivering on their sustainability objectives are going to secure better brand loyalty, therefore recouping the increased costs.
Another issue that brands are having to overcome, is the volume of plastic available to be able to meet the requirements placed upon the sector. While post-production plastic was exported, post-consumer plastic was in short supply because of poor collection systems. It’s widely recognised that capturing this plastic and channelling it back into the recycling process is a critical objective within the bottling sectoring, and the responsibility of manufacturers, brands and retailers.
There is much demand on the brands and manufacturers to include recycled content in packaging, but there also needs to be an incentive on the public to change behaviours when it comes to recycling.
Can bottle return schemes improve supply feedstock?
In a bid to increase the volume of available PET, bottle return systems have been hailed as one solution to increase the supply, encouraging higher rates of recycling from consumers. Because let’s face it, while brands are having to re-educate themselves, there needs to be a behavioural change from the wider public also.
Germany introduced these schemes in 2003 and the country now recycles 99% of its plastic bottles, while in Norway, 96% of all plastic bottles are returned. It is yet to be seen whether all retailers of single-use drinks will be required to participate in the scheme. So far, Iceland, Co-op and Tesco have all declared that they are in support of these schemes, while Sainsburys is calling for a more holistic approach to the wider problem.
Bottle return schemes may work to increase the volume of post-consumer plastic, while the reduction of export options when it comes to post-production will mean that the material is kept in the UK, further bolstering the volume of rPET available to be reprocessed.
Those charged with looking after this new solution will be obliged to ensure that new processes not only meet legislative requirements but are truly showing commitment to the concept of sustainability throughout every step of the supply chain.
The worry from brands has previously been the impact on the aesthetics and appearance on their bottles from using recycled content, and the complexity of the design of bottles and packaging has been problematic when it comes to increasing the volume of rPET.
This is where brands need to leverage the power of their sustainability story to outwardly market the altered appearance of their packaging, and how this is meeting consumer and legislative demands.
What methods are bottling and beverage firms implementing to increase recycling efforts?
There is no denying that UK plastic recycling is a growth industry currently still in its infancy, but this doesn’t mean that recycling post-production plastic can’t be an integral part of the supply chain. The following processes can be implemented by brands of all size and stature.
Looking beyond local
With more than 50 different variations of plastic in use, it’s important to recognise that local waste management or recycling firms may not have the technology or capacity to recycle the plastic being used. With this in mind, it’s critical that bottling and beverage businesses look beyond their geographical location to source the right recycling partner.
Simplifying polymer groups
It’s critical that firms identify, and partner with experts to reduce the number of polymer groups used in the packaging of their product. By reducing the number of polymer groups, you immediately make your product more recyclable and the process of segregation less labour-intensive and less likely to end up in landfill, contributing to the environmental problem.
By implementing effective segregation facilities and processes onsite, bottling and beverage firms can effectively reduce contamination, improve its recyclability and secure the best price for the scrap, as contaminated material sells for less and won’t be reprocessed.
Working with experts
While waste management firms have been integral in the collection and export of a number of scrap materials for a long time, their expertise do not lie in the recycling of materials such as plastic. By partnering with a plastic recycling firm, businesses can draw on the vast knowledge of varying plastic materials and the industry itself in order to make their product and scrap more recyclable and effectively tell their sustainability story.
What are the big brands doing to meet the demands?
While bottling and beverage firms are just beginning to embrace their recycling journey, some of the larger incumbents are making public commitments to simplifying their plastic waste and including higher volumes of recycled content. Our list isn’t exhaustive and there have been more than 40 companies that have signed up with trade associations and the Government to form the UK Plastics Pact. Of course, it’s not only the bottling firms that are responsible for plastic pollution in the industry, UK supermarkets produce around 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste per annum.
Coca-Cola have announced their plans to help collect and recycle 100% of its bottles by 2030, and in the same time frame it has plans its bottles to contain 50% rPET.
PepsiCo have plans to make 100% of its packaging recoverable or recyclable by 2025
Evian (Danone) are exploring its own in-house circular plastic usage to ensure that 100% rPET is used in its bottles. Currently 25% of the plastic they use in their bottles is recycled; in the current manufacturing process they use the material cannot be reprocessed more than three times due to degradation of quality but are investing in new technology to combat this.
M&S have announced that all its plastic packaging in the UK will be 100% recyclable by 2022. Further to this, they have reported that it will also be ‘widely recycled’ in the UK and will work to ‘design out’ packaging that can’t be recycled. The retailer has also stated that they are going to assess the viability for all its plastic packaging to be manufactured from one polymer group to improve recycling.
L’Oreal has committed to making sure that all of its plastic packaging is recyclable, refillable or compostable by 2025, this aligns with its already established sustainability program.
Other solutions can be seen around the world with brands like US based Just Water using HDPE caps, derived from sugar cane. Further high-tech options include refillable packaging that use RFID to track the number of items the bottle has been refilled, undergoing testing at a British University for Coca-Cola European Partners or ‘edible’ packaging used brown seaweed, a plant found in abundance.
There is no getting away from the supply chain changes that are not only expected, but required from bottling and beverage brands. While the prospect can be daunting, there are lots of ways that partnering with recycling experts like Vanden can benefit a business.
We want to work with you to determine what it will take to successfully meet sustainability KPI’s, reduce costs and not only protect the brand, but use sustainability as a pillar for growth and deliver value to core business. Contact us today to learn how partnering with Vanden could enable you to recycle your valuable commodities.