88,000 Eiffel Towers nowhere near enough…

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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This article is part of our special report Plastic waste management.

The world has managed to recycle enough plastic since the 1950s to equal the weight of 88,000 Eiffel Towers. Pretty impressive. The bad news is this is less than one-tenth[1] of the 8.3 billion tonnes[2] of plastic produced over the last seven decades.

Paul Campbell is senior vice president for supply chain Europe at PepsiCo Europe.

Tackling plastic waste

We all know that reducing the use of new or ‘virgin’ plastic is a vital part of protecting our planet and mitigating climate change. Producing one Pepsi MAX bottle from 100% recycled plastic lowers its carbon footprint by 40% compared to new plastic, for example. So, the importance of reducing plastic use, improving recycling and eliminating waste cannot be overstated.

My job is to improve the whole of our supply chain at PepsiCo in Europe. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous efforts to tackle the issues surrounding plastic waste, from innovations to improve recycled plastic to industry-wide campaigns to curb littering and encourage recycling.

Now, with the Single-Use Plastics Directive and other legislation setting ambitious targets for reducing plastic waste, the food and drink industry and policy-makers need to act in concert to deliver a step-change in the way we, in Europe, use, re-use, recycle and re-invent plastic and packaging.

Leading the way in recycled plastic

At PepsiCo, sustainability is at the top of our agenda. It’s why we’re working hard to ensure 100% of our packaging will be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.  It is also why we’ve just announced that we will move to use 100% rPET bottles for our Pepsi brand in nine European countries over the next two years. Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece and Spain will switch to 100% rPET in 2021, while France, Great Britain, Belgium and Luxembourg will be at 100% rPET in 2022.

This is a significant advance on our previous goal of 50% rPET usage in our bottles across the EU by 2030.

Our new commitment is only possible due to innovative breakthroughs in the use of recycled plastics in carbonated drink bottles. And it is underpinned by PepsiCo committing to make significant investment to purchase the more costly-recycled plastic.

The scale of this commitment is a first for the company and our industry.

How does policy fit in?

However, while we are leading the way with this pledge, we also need to understand the effects of key policy frameworks on the whole supply chain. What systems need to be in place to tackle plastic waste? What more can be done to encourage recycling so that we have the materials to work from in the first place? And how can we all work together to achieve this?

Call it professional distortion, but I would start at the first step of the supply chain, the raw materials level. At present, there is a mandatory recycled content for bottles as laid out in the Single-Use Plastics Directive. But this means we need a robust policy to facilitate a strong market for secondary raw materials and one that is not restricted by national borders. In simple terms, we need access to high grade rPET in order for this to happen, and unfortunately today there simply isn’t enough high-quality recycled material available within the EU, let alone at national level.

Effective and efficient recycling is key

With this in mind, we need EU and national rules that encourage and enable the optimum collection of post-consumer packaging – whether kerbside through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes or through Deposit Return Schemes (DRS).

At present, DRS achieve the highest rates of separate collection of plastic bottles – around 90%[3] in Europe. We want to ensure that any new similar schemes are rooted in seven fundamental pillars. These include being focused on giving the public easy access, ensuring availability to recycling points along with communicating effectively with the general public. Such schemes should also operate on a non-profit basis with direct participation of industry, have good cost control and transparent governance.

Extended Producer Responsibility schemes have been the key success factor of the EU’s global lead in recycling rates for packaging. As with DRS, we need transparent, non-profit systems and fees that are set at a level that encourages recycling of all packaging, offering incentives to those that make real efforts to recycle and reuse.

Lastly, in order for this to really work, there is a need to iron out inconsistencies in anti-litter policy across EU countries to ensure the proper disposal of waste. For example, it needs to be easier for consumers to identify what can be recycled and offering education on why recycling is so important.

If we work across the supply chain collaboratively with policymakers to address how to increase recycling rates across the EU, we can achieve and exceed the standards set out in the Single-Use Plastic Directive.

At PepsiCo, we will make sure we play our part.

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