PepsiCo is pledging to eliminate all virgin plastic from its Pepsi brand beverage bottles sold in nine EU markets by 2022.
The US multinational food giant will transition the entire Pepsi brand to 100 percent recycled PET (rPET), saving over 70,000 tons of fossil-fuel plastic annually and approximately 40 percent carbon emissions per bottle.
PepsiCo will also continue growing reuse and refill systems such as SodaStream.
“Reaching our 100 percent rPET target across the Pepsi brand by 2022 will be no easy feat, but we’re pleased to see the progress that’s been made so far,” Archana Jagannathan, senior director, sustainable packaging, PepsiCo Europe, tells PackagingInsights.
“Two years ago, there were far more barriers, and putting carbonated drinks in 100 percent rPET wasn’t possible at scale – there was not a ready supply of high-quality plastic for food use.”
“Technical advancement and improvements in availability have paved the way to making this announcement.”
Accelerated rPET targets
In 2018, PepsiCo announced it would achieve 50 percent rPET across the EU by 2030, and has already reached 30 percent.
The company also launched three brands – Tropicana, Naked Smoothies and Lipton Iced Tea – in 100 percent rPET bottles in several EU markets.
PepsiCo points to recycled plastic technological innovations in carbonated drink bottles, improvements in recycled plastic’s appearance, and greater market availability of recycled materials as reasons for its accelerated progress.
Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece and Spain will switch to 100 percent rPET in 2021, while France, Great Britain, Belgium and Luxembourg aim for 100 percent rPET in 2022.
The rPET transition applies to both company-owned and franchise bottlers in the relevant markets.
In France, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the commitment goes beyond Pepsi brands to include all soft drinks, like 7Up, Mountain Dew and Lipton Ice Tea.
Poland and Romania will also use 100 percent rPET in Mirinda.
A competitive market for waste
The latest PepsiCo commitment supports the European Commission’s recycled plastics campaign to ensure ten million tons of recycled plastics are used to make new products in the EU market by 2025.
Jagannathan is calling on EU waste management policy changes to help propel PepsiCo and the wider industry toward a fully-fledged circular economy for PET bottles.
“We need to collaborate across our value chain to ensure packaging is collected, sorted and recycled in all markets in Europe, and for governments to ensure waste management systems are in place so we can all play our part in a circular economy.”
“This means strong, harmonized and transparent systems and a competitive market for waste materials. Ultimately, this is what will help us secure high-quality recycled materials we can continue using on our products.”
Uniting circular economy stakeholders
PepsiCo is working with multiple stakeholders to advance the circular economy. The company recently became part of the Holy Grail digital watermarks consortium trials, efficiently sorting packaging by type, for example, food versus non-food.
The company is a member of several partnerships, including the New Plastics Economy, an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative, the Global Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UNEP, the EU Circular Plastics Alliance and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
Another critical part of increasing the availability of recycled plastics suitable for reuse in food packaging is ensuring bottles are easily recyclable and recycled. Almost 90 percent of PepsiCo’s packaging portfolio is recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.
The company is working to increase that percentage further through design improvements, such as moving to clear bottles and educating consumers on effective recycling behavior.
PepsiCo also participates in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes across the EU to improve collection and recycling rates and supports Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) “where kerbside collections are insufficient to meet the EU target of 90 percent collection by 2029.”
“While we can’t share specifics of all of our suppliers, the collection of the post-consumer waste is done locally in markets, though the recyclate material may sometimes need to be processed in countries other than where the product was consumed. It is a question of where the recycling and convertor industries are located,” Jagannathan shares with PackagingInsights.
A multifaceted sustainability approach
While recycling is an important part of tackling plastic waste, PepsiCo recognizes it is just part of the solution. Its three-pillar sustainability approach aims to reduce packaging material use and reinvent packaging through innovations.
The innovation includes exploring new materials, such as the world’s first fully recyclable paper bottle through the Pulpex consortium, and investing in reusable models such as SodaStream, which aims to eliminate 67 billion single-use plastic bottles globally by 2025.
“We believe it is important to approach the issue of plastic waste from several different directions. We know that recycling is just one – important – part of the solution to tackling plastic waste,” continues Jagannathan.
“On reduction, we design all our packaging to make it as efficient as possible and have worked to reduce the amount of packaging across all of our products for years. In recent times, we’ve made many of our plastic bottles lighter, allowing us to use less plastic and reduce the carbon impact of our drinks.”
“For our snacks, we have been trialing a new technology called ‘charge compaction’ which causes our snacks to settle in the bottom of a bag during packaging, reducing the amount of packaging we need, while still maintaining the same amount of product.”
PepsiCo says it wants to lead a Green Recovery in Europe. The multinational recently announced it would use 100 percent renewable electricity in all its European factories by 2022 while continuing to drive its Sustainable Farming Programme across the continent.
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