There’s no time to lose! Educating on the principles of circularity starts at a young age

There’s no time to lose! Educating on the principles of circularity starts at a young age

By Nicholas Hodac, director general, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

We are still not doing enough and I am equally responsible.

In the EU, an estimated 41.5% of plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2018. That’s not bad and we do see a steady increase in recycling rates, but we can do much better. Unfortunately, when we look at the breakdown by Member State, we can see that in several countries less than one third of plastic packaging waste was recycled.

Taking a step back and looking at those statistics again, I think about my own household and my daily life. I can relate to these figures and realise myself that I am almost certainly not recycling all the plastic packaging that I could. What about you?

I used not to “enjoy” the process of recycling: I approached it too much from a practical perspective and therefore I viewed it as “additional work”, a chore. This is mainly due to the fact that during my childhood the focus on environmental awareness and education was not that strong. Black (or white) bag for household waste, blue bag for plastic waste and yellow bag for paper waste. Not enough space in my apartment, no fun placing additional small bags under the kitchen sink and taking multiple bags down to the wastebins requires a bit of organisation and self-discipline. So, instead of really recycling, I ended up occasionally recycling just to make myself feel “better”. I realise that this was not the right action to take because I did not look at the bigger picture and the real ultimate goal: creating a greener future for the young generation and not wasting valuable resources.

It’s something I am not proud of and I can really relate to those numbers – again, telling the tale of an unfinished journey.

However, I have changed in the last years. Firstly, I became a father of two boys and am now responsible for raising and educating them. Secondly, I joined the food and drink industry and gained in-depth knowledge of how the industry is actively contributing to building a more sustainable world. The combination of these two events triggered a change in my attitude and opened my eyes to the importance of recycling.

Collection, sorting and recycling can be fun, for both parents and children

We have a shared responsibility to create a greener and more sustainable planet for our children.

Our children deserve better. They deserve to live in a world where all packaging is collected, sorted and recycled. These simple tasks should be as natural as breathing air.

It is really not difficult, because tremendous progress has been made in creating more efficient and user-friendly collection and recycling infrastructures. The three different recycling bags still exist, but information on the packaging and bags now clearly explains how to sort and what is recyclable. On streets you have an increasing number of recycling bins and the deposit-refund schemes that you find in many countries make it really easy to bring back beverage bottles.

So here is what we can do: make collection, sorting and recycling a fun experience for both parents and children!

Discovering the value of protecting the environment starts at a young age. Let’s turn it into a learning experience for a sustainable future. Showing children how to sort and recycle correctly is an occasion for them to understand that the environment is important and needs to be protected by all of us. Let’s make it interesting by helping them discover where different recyclable items belong to and what happens to different types of waste once thrown away.

Members of UNESDA are doing exactly that. For instance, Suntory Beverage and Food Europe in the UK and PepsiCo in Poland:

  • PepsiCo Foundation and PepsiCo Poland, jointly with Rekopol, the local waste packaging recovery organisation has recently launched Rekologia. This is an educational project-based programme aiming to raise environmental awareness in the field of recycling and waste segregation for primary school students in Poland.

 

  • Suntory Beverage and Food Europe in the UK on the other hand, worked on the #LoveYourForest anti-litter campaign, promoting activities that will teach children about the importance of protecting the environment by reducing litter and boosting recycling in the Forest of Dean.

It is so encouraging to see such initiatives coming from our members!

Plastic is a valuable resource, it should never end up as waste

Plastic beverage bottles are the most recycled packaging items.

The European soft drinks industry is investing considerable resources in making sure that none of its packaging ends up as litter.

The EU has a target of collecting 90% of plastic beverage bottles by 2029. Several countries have already reached those targets thanks to well-designed Deposit Return Schemes. When I visited Finland last year and spoke to the local DRS operator, it was interesting to hear how recycling has become a fun experience for children. The concept of giving a value – maybe small for adults but big in the eyes of children – to a bottle has led to real participation from the younger generation in collecting and recycling. Bring back a few bottles and then use the money to buy some (healthy!) sweets in the supermarket ? Great way to empower children!

The European soft drinks industry is committed to making all possible effort to achieve full circularity and therefore recently presented its Circular Packaging Vision 2030 with the objective of accelerating the transition to a circular economy. UNESDA members will do all they can to achieve the objectives of the Vision 2030, but they will also need your help at the start of the recycling chain.

We have a shared responsibility to develop a greener future for our children: let’s teach them the importance of collecting, sorting and recycling.

Recycling awareness and education is a joint effort: from parents, from educators, from society. I will take my responsibility and teach my two boys the importance of collecting, sorting and recycling. The European Commission is also well placed to play a role: maybe, as part of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU can also help and create education schemes for children?

Let’s work together to complete the journey towards full circularity for our children.

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