Beverage packaging can help build a more circular economy
Beverage packaging has an important role to play for the industry. It keeps products safe, transportable and safeguards products quality. It is also a resource that should never be wasted because it is recyclable, and it should be collected and recycled. That’s why the soft drinks industry is making its packaging more sustainable to help accelerate the transition to a more circular economy.
PET (plastic) bottles – increasing the supply of recycled PET
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.
Glass packaging – closing the glass loop
Glass is made from sand, soda, ash and limestone and is an established packaging material for soft drinks. It is an inert and one layer material, and therefore it protects but does not interact with the products it contains.
It is 100% recyclable and can be recycled infinitely into a bottle-to-bottle loop. On average 76% of glass containers put on the market in the EU are collected for recycling based on 2017 data, and most of them are put back into the loop. For every tonne of recycled glass, 1.2 tonnes of virgin raw materials are saved, about 580kg CO2 are avoided, air pollution is reduced by 20% and water pollution cut by 50%.
The industry wants to optimise the glass bottle-to-bottle loop as the beating heart of an authentic Circular Economy. With this purpose, FEVE recently established Close the Glass Loop – the glass packaging value chain platform which unites the glass collection and recycling value chain to establish a material stewardship programme that will result in more bottle-to-bottle recycling.
UNESDA is a founding member of the Close the Glass Loop platform.
Close Glass the Loop wants to achieve 90% glass packaging collection for recycling by 2030 and to improve the quality of recycled glass for bottle-to-bottle production by mobilising partnerships at EU level. https://closetheglassloop.eu/.
Its goal is to:
- optimise and develop sorting and treatment systems to increase yields from all collection systems and generate more furnace-ready cullet.
- Exchange of knowledge and best practice in collection, sorting & treatment systems between countries
- Promote separate collection of glass packaging to increase quantity & quality of untreated cullet
The European Container Glass Industry is actively committed to achieving its business goals which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Other initiatives, such as the Furnace of the Future, have been launched for this purpose – see www.feve.org
Further information on glass packaging can be found here: https://feve.org/about-glass/
Beverage Cartons – contributing to a low carbon circular economy
Beverage cartons are a paper-based packaging used to protect and distribute food and beverage products.
On average, beverage cartons comprise (by weight):
- 75% paperboard – a renewable material coming from responsibly managed forests, certified to credible forest management standards.
- 21% polymers – mostly polyethylene, to prevent leakage
- 4% aluminum – to protect drinks and food from light and oxygen
Recycling of beverage cartons in the EU has grown steadily in recent years. In 2019 on average, 51%* of all beverage cartons in the EU were recycled – with rates in some countries like Belgium and Germany of over 70%.
Collection is the pre-condition to recycling and cartons are either collected with lightweight packaging or with paper-based packaging. Of the ca. 900.000 T of beverage cartons put on the market, the majority is collected with light weight packaging.
Collecting all packaging materials separately significantly increases the volume of materials available for recycling, which in turn creates a more predictable, high quality waste stream.
The beverage carton industry has invested significantly across Europe to support the collection and recycling of used beverage cartons and will continue to do so. For example, Tetra Pak, SIG Combibloc, and Elopak have invested ~8 million EUR in the Palurec recycling plant in Germany. In Poland, Stora Enso and Tetra Pak have invested EUR 29.1 million in used beverage carton recycling.
Beverage cartons contribute to a low carbon circular economy:
The beverage carton industry believes that packaging can, and should, contribute to mitigating the biggest global challenge: climate change, while not compromising on food safety. The last months and years have shown how critical these challenges are.
Beverage cartons are a recyclable low carbon packaging solution today and as such, contribute to a variety of societal and environmental objectives. Building on these assets, ACE’s members have adopted an ambitious vision for 2030 and beyond: we will deliver the most sustainable packaging for resilient food supply systems which is renewable, climate positive, and circular. Our industry has adopted ambitious commitments to ensure its vision becomes reality.
In line with the vision of ACE members, every beverage carton will be:
- Made only from renewable and/or recyclable material.
- Fully recyclable and recycled.
- Made entirely from sustainably sourced raw materials.
- The packaging solution with the lowest carbon footprint.
We also commit to collecting 90% of beverage cartons for recycling and achieving a 70% recycling rate, verified by third parties. Other commitments include an annually reviewed Design for Recycling Guideline, using less plastic and more fibers.
Further information on the industry’s Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond, and the sustainability of beverage cartons can be obtained from ACE – The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment at http://www.beveragecarton.eu/
*Based on the then calculation rate.