Drinks giants back calls to eliminate plastic packaging waste by 2030
Soft drinks firms such as Danone Waters and Lucozade Ribena Suntory have thrown their weight behind a study which calls for a zero-waste-to-landfill plastic packaging value chain by 2030.
The report, published today (6 September) by the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership (CISL), urges beverage producers to pledge to make all their packaging for water and soft drinks with 100% recyclable or reusable material by 2025.
Supported by members of the Future of Plastic Packaging Working Group, including Lucozade Ribena Suntory and Harrogate Water, the document also calls for corporates to aim for at least a 70% proportion of recycled content in their soft drink bottles within the same timeframe.
The report sets out a future where zero plastic packaging is sent to landfill or littered in the natural environment by 2030 – a scenario it dubs “ambitious” yet plausible.
“Achieving this vision requires all stakeholders in the bottled water and soft drinks value chain to commit to eliminating plastic packaging waste as a strategic priority, and to work collaboratively and simultaneously,” the report states.
“While the urge to search for quick fixes may be strong, this report recognises the complexities of the plastics challenge and the need to avoid unintended consequences. It also recognises that while government and business are already starting to address the issue, there is still a need to set ambitious goals to push the sector and create a transformational shift to eliminate plastic packaging waste.”
The recommendations are supported by Brecon Mineral Waters, Danone Waters UK and Ireland, Harrogate Water, Highland Spring, Montgomery Waters, Nestlé Waters UK, Shepley Spring, Wenlock Spring and Lucozade Ribena Suntory.
WWF’s executive director for advocacy and campaigns Tony Juniper has also thrown his weight behind the analysis.
“It is great that this group of drinks companies has set out a willingness to act and if everyone else rises to the challenge too - especially governments - then solutions can quickly follow, reducing the appalling impacts plastic waste causes on wildlife,” Juniper said. “If we are to protect our environment from the effects of plastic waste we must make an urgent transition to a circular, closed-loop economy.”
A collaborative approach
In order to achieve the “ideal” 2030 trajectory, the report calls for business and Government to take eight immediate actions, such as collaborating to start an in-depth study into which materials would be optimal for eliminating plastic while maintaining a low net environmental impact.
It also recommends that leading corporates should seek a Government mandate for a consistent, industry-wide labelling standard for bottled water and soft drinks in a bid to drive behaviour change among consumers and increase recycling rates.
Turning to green policy, the report calls on ministers to implement a national deposit-return scheme and revise the current Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model to make the cost of purchasing Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) more expensive. For the UK, this cost is around €20 per tonne, but other European nations have an average of around €150 per tonne.
Specifically, the report recommends that all revenue generated through these new policies should be fenced off and invested in recycling, sorting and reprocessing facilities and schemes.
The report comes at a time when nations, cities and companies are rushing to take action on the world’s plastic pollution problem, which was declared a “planetary crisis” by the United Nations (UN) in December 2017.
Global plastic production has more than doubled over the past two decades, rising from 150 million tonnes in 1998 to 311 million tonnes in 2014 – a statistic which spurred an unprecedented number of UK residents to urge the Treasury to introduce increased rates of tax on virgin plastics, coupled with tax breaks for manufacturers using post-consumer recycled (PCR) content.
In response to the problem, which has piqued public interest following last year’s Blue Planet 2 series, both the UK Government and the European Union (EU) have unveiled sweeping strategies that aim to phase-out use of certain types of plastic by 2030 – for the EU – and 2042 for the UK.
Hints have also been made that the UK Government will include increased rates of tax on virgin materials, coupled with tax breaks for manufacturers using recycled content in their products, in its new Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS). A decision has been made to consult on a nationwide deposit return scheme for plastic containers and a national ban on plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
More recently, Theresa May confirmed that ministers would investigate whether the nation's current charge for single-use plastic carrier bags should be doubled to 10p and rolled out to every shop in the country.
As this string of policy changes come into effect, progress on plastics action has been even swifter within the business community, with corporates making moves to drive collaborative action as well as improving resource efficiency within their own operations.
The CISL report comes as more than 170 big-name corporates in the food and drink and packaging sectors - including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Asda - call for more recycling collection points, tax reliefs for recycled content and a universal list of acceptable materials as part of a desired regulation reform, for example.
Elsewhere, frozen food giant Iceland has committed to become the world's first major retailer to remove plastic packaging from its own brand products by 2023. Such ambitious commitments have led some experts to argue that, in many instances, the actions of policymakers are far behind the ambitions of business.