Creating a low carbon circular economy for PET
This is not just about us though. It is about how we transition as an industry to remove virgin fossil-based PET, with the ultimate aim of creating a no waste, low carbon economy for the packaging we do use whilst reducing packaging via refillable and dispensed solutions and services as another key route towards eliminating packaging waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To do this – four things need to happen:
1. Step change packaging collection
Aligned with the EU ambition of 90% collection by 2029, we need to collect all our bottles back. PET bottles made up the vast majority of PET put on the market (3.4mt) in 2018. Of this, only 1.78 mt was collected and sorted for mechanical recycling (52%). We have identified DRS as the most efficient and effective way to improve collection rates where a proven alternative doesn’t exist and our industry must champion and drive this change.
2. Ensure bottles can be turned back to bottles
While 1.78mt was collected in 2018, only 18% of this volume was recycled bottle to bottle. Today a lot of material is downcycled from PET to sheet plastic. We need to ensure that food grade bottles remain as food grade PET for future applications. Supporting legislation would help to drive this change needed.
3. Increase recycling capacity
Assuming the Single Use Plastic Directive target to collect 90% of all beverage bottles can be met by 2030, the EU will need to double rPET reprocessing capacity in order to handle the tonnage of PET that will need to be collected, sorted and recycled. We are already supporting the PET recycling industry by entering into long-term supply agreements with mechanical recycling partners - such as our joint venture with Plastipak to create the Infineo recycling centre in France - to help them develop further capacity. But more will be needed.
4. Consumer engagement and education
Plastic products with high levels of recycled content may have a slightly greyer shade than virgin fossil-based plastic. This doesn’t impact the quality of the plastic; the greyness often emerges as a result of different aspects of the recycling process. Our consumer research tells us that consumers very often do not notice this. If pointed out, consumers respond positively to this sustainability attribute. Driving consumer understanding of the aesthetics of recycled content and its connection to sustainability will be fundamental to driving a circular economy for PET.
Towards a Circular PET future
We, like other beverage companies, are moving towards 100% recycled or renewable PET in our bottles, replacing our use of virgin fossil-based PET as we do so. We know this is the right direction of travel to create a low carbon, circular economy for plastic. However, our use of 100% rPET in our bottles today is just one small step in a much bigger industry journey towards plastic packaging circularity using recycled or renewable content alongside further increasing the use of refillable and dispensed formats. We will continue to invest in collection, recycling technology innovation and capacity to help support entire markets moving to reduce the use of virgin fossil-based PET over time.
Lucinda Langton, CCEP