ANALYSIS: Zero waste presents drinks packaging dilemma

Soft drink manufacturers are on track to reach zero waste to landfill by 2015 - however, maintaining product quality remains a key challenge.

Major drinks brands like Innocent are constantly looking to innovate on the packaging front

Major drinks brands like Innocent are constantly looking to innovate on the packaging front

This was the conclusion of a recent report from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) that reviewed the sector's sustainability progress - the Soft Drinks Industry Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2008.

The report builds on tough ambitions for waste reduction, as well as those included within phase 2 of WRAP's Courtauld Commitment. Setting out packaging waste reductions already achieved by the sector, the study outlines how drinks manufacturers can further reduce the impact of their packaging and work towards waste prevention.

In the first year, results for Phase 2 of Courtauld show that recycling rates and product weight grew by 5.1% - well on target to achieve a three-year reduction target of 10%. However, supply chain product and packaging waste fell by just 0.4% in the first year, suggesting that there is still much to do to hit a 5% target in year three.

Speaking to edieWaste, packaging expert Mark Shayler, who heads up his own consultancy Tickety Boo, said that the drinks industry is going through an interesting change in terms of the way materials are used and products are packaged.

He described how "massive changes will continue in drinks packaging in the next 20 to 30 years" in an effort to reduce the amount of water shipped around the world.

He also questioned reprocessing capacity, arguing that the UK doesn't have the infrastructure in place to deal with biodegradable material. "This creates the big question of what the waste industry does with materials that hinder the degradability of PET."

As a result, he added, brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsico tend to go for a "blended PET and degradable solution" while also investing in plant-derived plastics and selling it as an alternative to oil as it has no degradability issues.

Last year Coca-Cola launched a plant bottle for its 500ml products. Featuring 25% recycled content, it includes up to 22.5% of PET derived from renewable plant sources rather than hydrocarbons from petrochemical sources - saving more than 60,000 barrels of oil each year.

That aside, Shayler maintained that manufacturers are under "all kinds of pressure constraints" as carbonated soft drinks can't use tetra - as a result, they are "stuck with metal", although he notes that the aluminium used in cans is thinning. Customers prefer this generally, he added, as they can see less material is used.

Shayler predicted that one of the big opportunities will come from the concentration of products in capsule form which "deliver the perfect drink with much less packaging and challenge the way we use plastics".

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Entreprises' (CCE) commercial recycling manager Nick Brown said that the company's latest sustainability plan sets out a target of reducing the carbon impact of its drink packaging by a third by 2020.

"Packaging plays a major role in meeting that goal. We will set the standard for sustainable packaging, achieve zero waste in our operations and recycle more packaging than we use," he said, adding that the key factor is ensuring product quality is protected.

Meanwhile, five out of six Coca-Cola manufacturing sites have already achieved zero waste to landfill status and Brown says through recycling partnerships, the company is moving to ensure that its packaging is recovered and reprocessed.

In line with developments in the packaging sector, Coca-Cola has moved from only dispensed and glass bottles to include cans, PET bottles, carton and pouch options, which include a high recycled material content.

It has also set an ambition for all its plastic bottles across Europe to include 25% recycled content by the end of 2012. Brown added that end-of-life issues are increasingly being taken into account and CCE is making a new commitment that all bottles and cans will be 100% recyclable.

He said: "This is a major challenge to the existing collection and reprocessing supply chain in the UK and we have decided to partner with ECO Plastics to establish a joint venture to more than double the amount of food-grade PET produced in the UK."

The new Coca Cola facility is scheduled to open in April 2012, producing around 25,000 tonnes of high quality food grade materials.

Carys Matthews


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