Talking about the opportunities the circular economy presents for food and drink producers, Butterworth pointed to intelligent tagging or labelling of plastic packaging. This, he said, could enable the global waste industry to identify the type of material coming into a materials reccovery facility and establish its source.

“This fixes a broken link in the current FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) value chain and enables margin to be shared with the necessary stakeholders to incentivise continual improvement of processes and design,” he maintained.

“It also builds a valuable data set to enable manufacturers to assess what volume of material is actually being regenerated and what needs to be done to improve this.”

According to Butterworth, intelligent tagging of FMCG products is currently a “very nascent technology”, but he believes it could act as a future driver for companies in the FMCG sector to set up restorative material loops and shift to a circular economy model.

He also pointed to the PET bottle, first introduced in the 1970s, as a good example of early circularity saying that the development of surrounding collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure led to the creation of an industry standard. “[It] arguably provides one of the best examples of circular plastic flows within the economy.”

Research carried out by the Foundation indicates that use of secondary raw materials in the production of new bottles yields significant benefits, both in terms of financial and in virgin resources.

However due to the discrepancy of recovery rates globally, Butterworth believes there is still a significant opportunity for realising greater circularity and, in many countries, to increase recycling. “Currently, just half of the 19.8 million tonnes of PET produced globally get recycled every year,” he noted.

Lost value

The Foundation points to four building blocks for capturing this lost value: optimised design and materials innovation for circularity; business model innovation across the supply ‘circle’ to create economic incentives for increased circularity; optimisation of collection, sorting, treatment and redeployment processes and infrastructure; enabling system conditions, including the alignment of policy and education.

“On average, a citizen in an OECD country buys 800kg of food and beverages, 120kg of packaging and 20kg of new clothing and shoes every year. These goods are not returned, for the most part, for any further economic use,” Butterworth added.

“$3.7 trillion worth of material goes into the FMCG sector globally each year and only 20% of that volume is recovered or valorized – an effective loss of $2.8 billion, leading to a gradual erosion of primary resources. Surely there has to be a better way.”

Butterworth was commenting on a blog for Coca-Cola Enterprises, one of the main bottlers for the Coca-Cola Company who are a member of the Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 business platform.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie