What’s next for beverage packaging? 2022 will be a year filled with opportunities to continue making beverage packaging fully circular!

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

Last week (20-28 November 2021) was the European week for waste reduction. What better time to reflect on the latest and upcoming developments in circular packaging?

Our ambition at UNESDA is very clear, we want to decouple “beverage packaging” from “waste”. The reason is simple: packaging that is not collected and recycled can have a significant negative impact on our environment. Fortunately, it does not have to be like that. Our packaging has great value and therefore should never be wasted! Instead, it should be collected, recycled and reused to form a perfect closed loop, minimising its environmental footprint.

Under the frameworks of the EU Green Deal and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, we are accelerating our work in making our packaging more sustainable and increasingly circular.

Early 2021, we made a series of ambitious commitments on recyclability, recycled content, and collection with our Circular Packaging Vision 2030. Some of them even exceed EU targets:

  • By 2025, all our beverage packaging (aluminium cans, glass bottles and PET bottles) will be 100% recyclable and all our PET bottles will contain at least 50% of recycled content. This goes beyond the EU target of using at least 25% recycled PET in PET bottles.
  • By 2030, we want all our PET bottles to be made from 100% recycled and/or renewable material, surpassing the 30% EU target. We aim to achieve a collection rate of more than 90% for all our beverage packaging and we are also committed to increasing our offer of refillable packaging and reusable solutions.

In 2022 there won’t be a dull moment in the packaging area as the European Commission will review its Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, with a proposal – we expect – before the summer break.

This represents a great opportunity to further unlock the potential of circular beverage packaging by implementing the much needed enablers to make a clear shift towards closed beverage packaging loops.

Let’s maximise collection rates with the further roll-out of well-designed Deposit Refund Systems (DRS) across Europe

Deposit Refund Systems have proven to be extremely efficient in achieving very high collection of beverage packaging (above 90%), by empowering consumers to play their role in the green transition and encouraging them to bring back their empty packaging so they can be recycled and made into new packaging.

They have already been set up in eight EU Member States and this number is expected to double in the next three years.

Now is the perfect time to learn from best practices and support any Member State wishing to set up a DRS with some guidance on how best to do so. For DRS to be fully efficient, it is important that they are well-designed and meet certain conditions.

The upcoming revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive represents a most timely opportunity to mandate the European Commission to develop minimum requirements for any new DRS set up in the EU.

Such minimum requirements will support consumer acceptance of the new scheme, guarantee the collaboration among all different stakeholders involved in DRS, help to achieve the best collection rates possible and facilitate our access to the necessary recycled content.

Closing the loop is a must

Our sector is committed to giving all our bottles a second life but we are facing a major challenge: everyone wants our PET bottles!

Why so? PET is one of the most sustainable packaging materials around, and the demand for recycled PET on the EU market is hence very high. As a result, an increasing number of non-food industries are using food grade recycled PET and transforming them into other products (e.g. clothes, carpets, toys…).

This creates two main problems.

First, this goes against the very essence of circularity: our beverage bottles are transformed into something else, and cannot be reused any longer as new bottles. The loop is therefore broken.

We fully support other sectors’ sustainability ambitions but the increased use of recycled content by one sector should not be achieved at the expense of breaking another sector’s closed loop. The shift towards truly circular products and packaging  should be done by investing in your own loop, with proper collection and reuse/recycling.

Secondly, the beverage industry remains the only sector with mandatory EU recycled content targets and has even announced a number of voluntary targets that go further. It is therefore important to make sure the sector has access to the necessary high quality recycled content. Without the proper legal mechanisms in place, achieving those targets will remain highly challenging.

The revised Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive has the potential to fix those problems by defining closed loop circularity and granting beverage producers fair and necessary access to recycled materials issued from the products they place on the market, and that have been successfully collected.

A smooth transition towards reusable solutions

We remain committed to  increasing the share of reusable beverage packaging in soft drinks sold on the European market.

We believe that offering more reusable packaging solutions should be part of the EU strategy on reduce and reuse. Those solutions complement the great efforts already made and yet to be pursued on recyclability, collection rates and recycled content.

However, this will have to be a managed transition and our preliminary analysis of the impact of moving towards more reusable solutions highlighted the significant investments and changes that are needed to get there. These will require new production lines, new logistics, larger storage space, etc. In addition, the environmental impact of reusable solutions may only be positive in certain situations, compared to a fully circular packaging (100% recyclable, with a 90% collection rate and made of a high proportion of recycled content).

Again, the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive comes at just the right time to start developing the necessary conditions to allow for a smooth and well-managed transition towards more re-use in Europe.

The new Directive can play a critical role in engaging all relevant actors and promoting a collective approach – the key condition for consumer behaviour to change on a large scale. It has the potential to set up all the necessary preconditions and support systems that will be required to make changes happen.

There is no doubt that 2022 will be a decisive legislative year for our sector.

The revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive offers a very timely opportunity to put in place a supportive EU legal framework to help us deliver on our packaging circularity commitments.

It has the potential to promote the further roll-out of well-designed Deposit Refund Systems (DRS) across Europe, to facilitate the access of beverage producers to the necessary recycled content to meet the EU and their own targets, and to ensure a smooth transition towards more reusable solutions.

We are therefore looking forward to collaborating with EU decision-makers and all relevant stakeholders engaged in packaging circularity in order to make our ambition for fully circular beverage packaging possible.

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