Inside Lucozade Ribena Suntory's plastics strategy
EXCLUSIVE: As its parent company strives to eliminate virgin fossil-fuel-based plastics from its packaging portfolio across Europe by 2030, Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS) has provided edie with an exclusive, deeper dive into its plastics strategy.
Announced in September 2019, Suntory’s commitment to switch to 100% “sustainable” plastics across its European packaging portfolio made headlines. While many praised the company’s boldness in removing virgin, fossil-based plastics from some of the continent’s most recognisable soft drinks brands including Lucozade, Ribena and TriNa, concerns were raised about what “sustainable” really means in the plastics context.
To that end, edie spoke exclusively to LRS’s supply chain director for the UK & Ireland, Chris Kane, for further information on the company’s wider plastics strategy.
The company is a member of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact, which requires signatories to eliminate unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign; make all plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable; achieving recycling and composting rates of 70% or more for packaging, and including 30% recycled content across all packaging. All of these aims have 2025 deadlines.
As such, the core aims of LRS’s plastics strategy are closely aligned with WRAP’s requirements but go further or faster in some cases.
Explaining LRS’s decision to join the Pact – given that it has had a plastics strategy for more than a decade – Kane said that it was developed at a time when LRS was “well ahead” of existing plastics targets and “wanted to take a lead” on collaboration in this space.
“We don’t think of action on plastics as a compliance issue or a box-ticking exercise,” Kane said. “We will work with industry and Government, as necessary, to support industry standards, because they are important. But we certainly have ambition and a plan to go beyond this.”
Recycled content loop
LRS is working in line with the Pact’s 2025 requirement for all plastic packaging to be 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable, and is additionally targeting 50% of material from sources which aren’t virgin and fossil-based by the same deadline.
Sourcing recycled plastics, Kane explained, will play a key part in reaching the latter of these aims. LRS has been using 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics to house its Ribena lines since 2008 and is on-track to be using 100% recycled plastic content to house its Lucozade Sport bottles by the end of 2020.
According to Kane, the Lucozade Sports switch, coupled with the launch of a new line of Ribena drinks called Frusion in 100% recycled bottles, will mean 40% of the plastics used across LRS’s packaging portfolio will be from recycled sources within a year. But he maintains that further progress beyond this point will likely be “more challenging”.
“The challenge we face – not just in the UK, but across Europe - is around supply and demand,” he said. “At present, there is a shortage of rPET. If every big business were to promise they would covert to 100% rPET tomorrow, there simply wouldn’t be enough material, because the infrastructure and the consumer behaviour needed isn’t there.”
With this in mind, Kane adds, LRS is committed to maintaining recyclability as it shifts to recycled materials. The company is also planning to vocally support policy interventions which it believes will “greatly improve the quantity and quality of feedstocks” – including a nationwide Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) – and investing in innovations which could also boost availability and quality.
On the latter, LRS has notably collaborated with rivals PepsiCo and Nestle to invest in Carbios – an emerging chemical recycling process. But Kane believes that it is ultimately policy, not business investment or any one innovation, which will provide long-term scaling-up of recycled plastics markets.
“Getting more feedstock on the market by the mid-2020s will be dependent on the implementation of effective legislation,” Kane summarised. “There is a massive demand for rPET and I think businesses sourcing it have got to work together to make sure we get the right policies to get it.”
The good news here, then, is that the Government has backed an “all-in” DRS model after consultations around the Resources and Waste Strategy – the first major policy overhaul in this space in more than 11 years. Such a model will see deposits added to all plastic bottles, regardless of size or contents. Research has suggested that the “all-in” model could generate £2bn for the national economy over a 10-year period.
As Kane suggested, the loop on plastics is far from closed. Gaps in recycling infrastructure and policy frameworks, compounded by a lack of unified collection and confusion around which behaviours are best, have resulted in just 9% of all plastic produced in human history having been successfully recycled. Moreover, most plastics can only be recycled a finite number of times.
Consumer awareness around these challenges is growing amid a backdrop of media exposes and action from green campaign groups.
LRS is, therefore, investing in innovations which reduce its plastic use and enable plastics to be removed from some lines altogether. On the former, 500ml bottles of Ribena have been lightweighted and fitted with smaller sleeves, for example. On the latter, LRS is switching from plastic to paper straws for Ribena cartons in the first quarter of 2020 – ahead of the UK Government’s ban – and is continuing to invest in compostable sachets and cups.
Both compostable formats, Kane explained, “work well for large events like marathons and festivals, when you have a lot of people in a small area for a limited amount of time”. LRS first began using compostable sachets called Ooho from Skipping Rocks Lab in 2018, trialling them at Richmond Marathon and the West Sussex Tough Mudder. The move was covered in the tabloids and ultimately proved to be a success, paving the way for LRS to roll out the offering further.
And LRS isn’t the only large firm backing the innovation; it’s also secured investment from Just Eat, Unilever-owned Hellman’s, Selfridges and Sky, as well as the UK Government. The Government funding is aimed at creating a vending machine for Oohos but, according to Kane, this leap has not yet been made.
For LRS, he elaborates, it would be challenging to ship Ooho-housed drinks over long distances and to maintain the hygiene of a plastic bottle or cardboard carton on retailer shelves or in vending machines. Moreover, Oohos in formats of 500ml or greater do not yet exist.
“Oohos certainly have their place…. how we could make them commercially viable beyond the [events] context is the real challenge,” Kane said.
“We are a packaged beverage company and continue to see that as a large part of our future, but how we engage and invest in emerging technologies around packaging is increasingly important. We are keen to not only invest in technologies with environmental benefits, but to help scale them up.”
edie's Mission Possible Plastics Week: How to get involved
Running from 13-17 January, edie's Mission Possible Plastics Week includes exclusive interviews, podcasts, reports, webinars and in-depth feature articles – all dedicated to turning the tide on single-use plastics.
You can find a full list of the exclusive content which edie will be bringing you as part of the campaign, run in association with Nestle, by clicking here.