Europe’s soft drinks industry is a firm supporter of the circular economy principle outlined in the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Circularity presents a real opportunity for our generation and while we have already done a lot, we recognise there is still much to be done. Read more here about the actions we are taking across a range of areas.
Making Europe’s economy circular: The time is now
By Tudy Bernier, senior policy manager, UNESDA
We are enthused to have sight of the Commission’s much anticipated Circular Economy Action Plan. The circular economy lies at the very heart of the Commission’s new regenerative growth strategy for Europe and UNESDA is fully committed to supporting the transition. As we embark on this next phase of Europe’s Circular Economy strategy, our industry needs three things: legal certainty, a long-term vision and a holistic approach, working in partnership with all actors. We need to create efficient collection schemes to increase collection of all beverage containers to ensure the availability of high quality rPET and continue to recycle aluminium and glass in a sustainable way. Only by doing this, can we guarantee a well-functioning internal market for secondary material.
UNESDA position paper on Circular Economy Action Plan
UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe and its members have been driving sustainability throughout their value chain for decades. Packaging has an important role to play for the beverage industry, keepings its products safe, transportable and convenient for consumers. UNESDA is also a firm believer that packaging is a resource that should never be wasted. That’s why the soft drinks industry is taking numerous actions to achieve full circularity and support the Commission’s agenda to accelerate the transition towards a green economy.
PET recycling rates across Europe
Beverage packaging is Europe’s most recycled item. See here to explore the PET recycling rates across the continent.
*Slovakia – Source: Institute for Environment Policy report, November 2018
*Denmark – Source: 2019 data from Dansk Retursystem A/S https://www.danskretursystem.dk/presse/#/pressreleases/danskerne-panter-som-aldrig-foer-2982130.
*Spain – Source: 2017 Ecoembes
How enhanced recycling can help increase the supply of recycled PET
More collection = more recycling = more rPET in our bottles
Boosting the collection and recycling of PET bottles is a key goal for both the EU and UNESDA. In addition to reducing plastic in the waste stream, it will also create a reliable supply of food-grade quality rPET.
In 2018 UNESDA members pledged that by 2025 PET bottles would contain a minimum 25% recycled content on average across Europe. This target has subsequently become mandatory under EU law and the goal of the European Plastics Strategy is to ensure that ten million tonnes of recycled plastics find their way into new products by 2025.
Soft drinks companies have been instrumental in setting up and running many of the packaging collection schemes across Europe. The sector supports both deposit return schemes (DRS) for beverage packaging and extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes which cover various packaging types and materials.
Technologies to boost collection and recycling
There are a several different recycling technologies and Europe must leverage each of them if it is to achieve its goals:
- Mechanical recycling – the grinding, washing, separating drying, re-granulating, stripping and compounding of plastics as widely used today;
- Solvent purification – dissolving plastic in a solvent with a series of purification steps to separate the additives and impurities before the plastic is reused;
- Enhanced recycling – the process of depolymerisation which breaks down the molecular bonds of the plastic into its original monomers and oligomers;
- Feedstock recovery – heating the plastics to convert them back into basic petrochemicals so that they can be used to produce new plastic.
By combining the use of mechanically recycled PET, enhanced recycled PET and renewable PET, it is possible to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging while delivering products in a safe and sustainable packaging.
Through harnessing all recycling technologies we can unleash the full potential for rPET and also capture other plastics such as polyolefins which cannot be recycled mechanically
Quality, safety, availability and affordability
Increasing the use of rPET will depend on its quality, safety, availability and affordability. The different recycling processes need to adhere to a standard set of principles that allow us to foster new technologies and infrastructures and ensure that all recyclates are safe and of a quality that is suitable for the production of food-grade quality rPET.
The soft drinks industry is calling for:
- swift authorisation of mechanical recycling techniques
- an unleashing of innovation in driving new recycling technologies
- a harmonising of definitions and approaches across EU markets
- a supportive legal framework for alternative plastic recovery technologies like enhanced recycling and feedstock recycling
- simplification and harmonisation of those processes to unleash the full potential of the new technologies under the REACH registration
- traceability – through verification and certification schemes
Making circularity a reality – creating the bottles of the future
The European Commission’s ambition to increase the uptake of recycled plastics is an essential step towards realising a circular economy. With a harmonised, legal framework and measures to assure availability and affordability of recycled materials compared with virgin materials, Europe can realise more sustainable packaging in a circular economy.
By combining each of the different recycling technologies we will be able to realise our ambition of sustainable packaging. Harnessing the very latest innovations we will build the bottle of the future – a bottle that is virtually free from virgin-plastic.
Action by our national associations to support circularity
The Belgian Federation of Bottled Water and Soft Drinks Producers (FIEB) has presented a number of their achievements on sustainability and packaging. FIEB has committed to make packaging 100% recyclable/reusable/biodegradable by 2025.
In France, the French Soft Drinks Association (BRF) took the commitment to have 25% of rPET by 2015. In 2018, they had already reached 30%
Since 2002, Dansk Retursystem has had the exclusive right to operate the deposit and return system, which collects, counts, sorts and separates bottles and cans and sends them for recycling. The exclusive right also imposes a duty on Dansk Retursystem to always be efficient and to keep the costs as low as possible.
The Spanish Soft Drinks Association published its annual report at the end of 2018. Soft drink packaging in 2017 is 22% lighter than in 2000.
Actions by UNESDA members to support circularity
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. Read more here:
Ensuring that its packaging can be collected for recycling is critical to Coca-Cola European Partners’ (CCEP) business.
86% of Danone’s total packaging – and 77% of its plastic packaging – is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
Nestlé Waters applies ‘recyclable by design’ principles and carries out lifecycle assessments to minimise the environmental footprint of all its beverage bottles.
PepsiCo’s vision is to build a world where plastics need never become waste. To realise this the company must reduce, recycle & reinvent its plastic packaging.
Red Bull cans are infinitely recyclable.
Packaging is a central theme within Refresco’s wider sustainability approach. Its motto is Reduce & Recycle.
Suntory Beverage Food Europe has unveiled a path to reach 100% sustainable plastic bottles, within a decade.
In 2019 the first ever Coke sample bottle made using recovered and recycled marine litter was introduced. A food and drink packaging first.
Ambitions to make plastic packaging more sustainable
- 100% of soft drinks plastic packaging to be recyclable
- PET bottles to contain a minimum of 25% recycled content
Ambitions aim to achieve circularity through
- Use of Recycled Content
Representing our sector’s contribution to the EU’s bold objectives and calls for action on packaging sustainability
Contributing towards building a circular model for plastic packaging
Beverage packaging is already the most collected packaging in the EU
Environmental stewardship is an ongoing priority for the sector. UNESDA members recognise that the sector has a role to play in taking up its responsibility to manage resources and reduce waste throughout its production processes and distribution activities. We focus on a handful of core areas:
Water is a key ingredient for our industry, representing some 90% of a soft drink. Water efficiency, conservation and protection are a focus. Manufacturing operations aim to optimise water use and treat wastewater appropriately. In Europe, some companies have been able to reduce their water ratio all the way to 1.2 litres per litre of beverage produced. Furthermore, waste from production processes such as cooling and rinsing is then internally reused to clean trucks and floors.
Packaging too is a key resource for the sector and we have taken a number of steps to introduce sustainable packaging policies as well as effective systems for reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse. UNESDA is a founding member of the PET Platform which gathers key players in the packaging chain and is committed to the use of 100% recycled plastic. The industry currently exceeds legal packaging recovery targets in a range of 50-80%. Read more here.
Across all of our industry energy is an important issue and we are focused on driving energy efficiency, conservation and reduction wherever possible. Our industry is part of a wider supply chain and we work closely with stakeholders and their partners to contribute jointly to a better environment. For example, truck sharing and the introduction of energy efficient and hybrid distribution vehicles has allowed us to reduce fleet emissions. At bottling plants, the energy use ratio is about 0.4-0.6MJ per litre of beverage produced and new technologies aim to reduce this figure by 50%.
UNESDA members view environmental protection as a joint societal effort that requires a common, consistent and coordinated approach. We work to manage resources and reduce waste throughout our production processes and distribution activities. Ours is primarily a local industry. The majority of ingredients used in our beverages are sourced locally and production is situated relatively close to the markets and consumers it serves, resulting in low food miles.
Innovation and investment in the area of environmental sustainability will continue to be a key priority for the industry in the years ahead.