Spotlight on reusable solutions to deliver on waste reduction ambitions!

by Delphine Close, EU Policy Manager, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

To reduce soft drinks packaging and packaging waste, a wide range of actions can be taken by European producers, consumers and decision-makers.

First, producers have the responsibility to avoid the use of unnecessary packaging and to design all packaging in a way that allows its recycling and/or reuse.

Second, producers and decision-makers have to support the development of effective collection schemes that make it easy for consumers to dispose of, or return their empty packaging via the most appropriate channel for its recycling or reuse. It is paramount for decision-makers to create the right incentives and regulatory enablers to make waste reduction ambitions a reality.

Third, consumers have to be part of this journey and need to be educated on the importance of appropriate waste disposal and separate collection. This will empower them to do their part to reduce packaging waste.

Packaging is a resource that should never be wasted! We need all hands on deck to make sure it is always collected, recycled or reused.


Reduce + Recycle + Reuse = the winning formula

It is undeniable that reusable systems should be part of the EU strategy to reduce packaging waste. Increasing reuse should complement the efforts already made and yet to be pursued to reduce and recycle packaging. Reducing, recycling and reusing are the three key pillars of any waste reduction journey.

While soft drinks’ producers are increasingly investing in new packaging designs, in recycling, and in integrating recycled content in their packaging, all eyes are now turning to the potential of reusable solutions.

In this area, new innovative systems are continuously being developed: from the classic refillable bottle you return to a shop nearby to high-tech dispensers available in your office, your favourite restaurant or shop, or even in the comfort of your own home. With proper support from decision-makers, the possibilities are endless to rethink the way we consume soft drinks and reduce the use of single-use packaging. Innovation should be praised and stimulated to unleash our sector’s packaging reduction potential.

Too good to be true, you might think? No, actually, it isn’t, but it is also important to keep some sense of realism and our eyes on the prize!


No one-size-fits-all approach

The prize, in this case, is the net environmental benefit that a good reuse strategy can generate.

With an increased offer of reusable beverage systems on the EU market, we need to make sure that this shift is actually beneficial to our environment. What does this mean? It needs to result in less waste, less CO2 emissions and a reduced carbon footprint.

Reusable is not always a synonym for environmentally-friendly. While reusable systems can bring environmental benefits under certain conditions, many factors, such as return logistics and cleaning of the packaging, need to be taken into account. Increasing reuse should not come at the expense of our industry’s ambitions to reduce its overall carbon footprint and to play its part to support the EU climate efforts.

Any strategy to stimulate reuse needs to be designed in a way that allows our industry to offer more reusable beverage systems where it makes sense for our environment.

Setting similar objectives in each Member State would not take into consideration the local specificities of each country (soft drinks market, consumer demand, road infrastructure, existing collection schemes, etc.). An EU objective, however, would provide the necessary flexibility while also avoiding a patchwork of different national measures, extremely burdensome and against the principle of better regulation.


A well-managed transition

Today, the use of reusable packaging and systems is marginal, with the exception of the HORECA sector and some countries like Germany. To increase reuse in our sector, significant investments will need to be made to create the necessary infrastructure: new production lines, return logistics, more storage space, new collection schemes, consumer education campaigns, etc.

If we take the example of refillable PET bottles, did you know that the set-up of a refillable PET bottling line costs double the price of its single-use counterpart, and that they take up two to three times more space in a production site?

Refillable and single-use bottles have little in common. The first are thicker and up to twice as heavy as the latter, which means they require new crates, more raw materials and more storage space.

It is without forgetting the completely new reverse infrastructure and logistics that will need to be set up, considerably increasing operational costs (estimated at an extra ~50%).

Again, we need all hands on deck to make it possible: decision-makers need to allow sufficient time for the changes to be implemented and create the necessary enablers and support schemes to ensure a smooth transition.

The soft drinks industry is committed to increase its offer of reusable beverage systems and to keep innovating to provide more packaging-less solutions in the years to come.

And you, what will you reuse today?

Share this post