From linear to circular – a roadmap for Europe’s soft drinks industry

From linear to circular – a roadmap for Europe’s soft drinks industry

By Nicholas Hodac, UNESDA Director General

Europe’s soft drinks industry is a firm supporter of the circular economy principle outlined in the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Our members have been driving sustainability throughout their value chains for more than 30 years – from reducing and reusing water, energy and raw materials in their production through to setting-up and running packaging waste collection and recycling systems across Europe.

Circularity presents a real opportunity for our generation. We have already done a lot, but we recognise there is still much to be done to make our businesses more sustainable – and we are up for the challenge.

Circularity involves everyone

When the Circular Economy Package was first presented, back in 2015, UNESDA welcomed this new, circular thinking aimed at fostering innovation and reducing the environmental impact of EU industry in an economically sound manner.

Indeed the involvement of all stakeholders – from producers through to citizens – means the very process is itself circular and a great example of how we can all play our part, with the daily recycling that we do in our homes representing a vital stage in the process. This is hugely motivating and refreshing – particularly for Europe’s youth who are committed to driving change and of course have a unique stake in the future.

The challenge now is to speed up the transition and to increase the amount of domestic waste that is treated and develop high quality recycling installations. We support this Extended Producer Responsibility approach and are pleased to see references to it peppered throughout the Commission’s document. We are strongly in favour of the implementation of common rules throughout Europe.

Plastic bottles – Europe’s most recycled item

The principle that a product that is easily recyclable, collected and recycled lies at the very heart of the circular approach and it is vital that this remains a full and legitimate part of Europe’s circular thinking. Our industry uses many different types of packaging and has long taken a lead in making sure that it is recyclable, and that it is both collected and recycled once it has been used. PET bottles are already Europe’s most recycled item with collection rates above 90% in countries such as Denmark, Germany and Norway and more than 80% in Belgium and Sweden. We have pledged that by 2025, 100% of our plastic packaging will be recyclable and contain at least 25% recycled content; and we are committed to going significantly beyond if the supply of food-grade quality rPET is secured accordingly.

Our packaging materials – aluminium, steel, plastic, glass, carton, etc. – are of the very highest quality and have considerable value in the marketplace post-use. There are also established systems in place to collect and recycle them. The Commission must now act swiftly to validate the recycling processes approved by EFSA so that this can happen. It also needs to create a supportive framework for alternative plastic recovery technologies like enhanced recycling and feedstock recycling. These alternative technologies are complementary to mechanical recycling processes and can boost the internal market for safe secondary raw materials.

Achieving a circular economy in Europe will require the full mobilisation of industry, governments, consumers and civil society and the Commission would do well to draw inspiration from existing platforms like the Circular Plastics Alliance. This way, issues such as strengthening waste collection systems and funding clean-up costs can be approached holistically and a collective solution thrashed out.

We are ready to face the circularity challenge and with it the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy for sustainable food that will form part of the broader picture for our sector. We are on a journey – it won’t happen overnight, but we are united in our determination to get there.

2020 and beyond

So, what does 2020 hold for our industry? Well, having just emerged from the finalising of the Circular Economy Package 1.0 and the Single-Use Plastics Directive, a key priority is of course to embark upon their implementation. Like all industries, we need stability and predictability in order to operate effectively and we trust that the EU institutions will build on the legislation that exists and avoid creating contradictions.

Importantly though, we will also be looking ahead to what comes next. We will need to consider: how we reach the 2030 90% collection target; how we can create efficient secondary raw materials markets so that we can access the food-grade quality recycled content that we need at affordable prices; and how we can implement new rules whilst also creating space for further innovation and solutions to make our business and consumer practices more sustainable.

The new EU Circular Economy Action Plan scheduled for publication on 4 March represents a key milestone in providing clear direction for achieving these objectives. Empowering consumers, modernising waste collection and speeding-up the transition from a linear model to a circular one.

We are itching to get started and will continue to share thoughts and expertise on how our industry can contribute to building a more sustainable model. 2020 – bring it on.

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