Ambition to use sustainable plastic by 2030 is a huge challenge, but it is the right thing to do.
Peter Harding is a Chief Executive Officer of Suntory Beverage and Food Europe.
Our founder, Shinjiro Torii, had a saying: “Yatte Minahare”. It means to think big, to take on the largest challenges and never ever give up. Simply, it translates as “Go for it”.
Today, well over a century later, the thousands of us who work at Suntory Beverage and Food Europe (SBFE) remain inspired by this spirit and saying. And there is no doubt that as an industry, we have a big challenge ahead of us. The world must change its relationship with plastic – that is clear. And so, businesses such as ours have to rethink our own commitments. Do we have the ambition to make the sorts of changes that will really make a difference? What do we do when confronted with these sorts of challenges? I am proud that we still, as a business, remain true to this founding spirit. We say, “Yatte Minhare”.
And so SBFE today embarks on a challenge – that over the next decade we will drive towards a sustainable plastic model. By 2030, we aim to make our bottles from 100% sustainable plastic. This means we will use plant-based materials or plastic that has previously been used. Before this, by 2025, we will ensure that all our packaging will be reusable or recyclable, use a minimum of 50% recycled plastic in our bottles and will reduce our use of plastic materials where we are able. We are the first soft drinks manufacturer to have such a stretching ambition, as set out by the Suntory Group, and we are ready and willing to invest the time, resource and money that will be needed to make this vision a reality.
The truth is that we know an ambition as big and as bold as this cannot be delivered by just one business. We, and businesses like ours, will require the help of policymakers across the European Union, helping to facilitate investment in new technology and infrastructure. This includes supporting and facilitating initiatives that will increase recycling rates, such as deposit return schemes or enhanced collection systems. These schemes will stimulate the supply of recycled plastic, which in turn will make it easier for businesses such as ours to meet our own sustainable plastic goals. It is right, and inspiring, that plastic waste has become an issue of global focus – now is the time for action from everyone.
This type of announcement, from a business of our size which operates in more than 60 countries across Europe, marks the beginning of an enormous amount of internal work. There are three broad areas that will require transformation over the next decade: our technology, our innovation and our supply chain.
First, technology. To move to fully sustainable plastic (pet) bottles we need to introduce new technology and innovation into our factories across Europe. One of these technologies is the import of a new plastic production process from Japan called ‘flake to preform’ – it will give us the capacity to turn recycled plastic ‘flakes’ directly into preform plastic that can used for bottling. This will be a game-changer for our business in Europe because it will greatly increase our capacity to use recycled plastic at scale, is more efficient and, crucially, reduces carbon emissions.
Second, our innovation. As a business we are very proud of the innovations that we have introduced to the industry, in terms of both product and packaging. Now we know we need to go further, faster. We need to find new types of packaging that ensure that we accomplish everything we have promised without compromising our drinks and the expectations of our customers. To get a sense of the sort of innovative investments that we’re going to make, look at our recent announcement that we had joined a consortium with Carbios, a start-up that is developing specific enzymes to transform how plastic is recycled. We will need more partners like this, as well as our own research teams studying how and where we use plastics and what we can do to reduce and change our use across our brands over the next decade. It is a big task, but one which we are passionate and excited about.
Third, our supply chain. We are examining our supply chain from top to bottom to ensure that we can source the materials we need, responsibly, from partners who not only share but enable our vision. For example, Suntory has invested in the development of plant-based plastic with sustainable technology company Anellotech. This exciting and ground-breaking innovation for our supply chain opens up many opportunities and is just one example of how we can leverage shared innovations that cross borders.
This will require many hundreds of people across our business spending a huge amount of time to make things better because they believe in what we are setting out to do. It will be difficult, but we have led the industry when changes were required in the past – such as when we reduced sugar across our brands in the UK and Ireland – and we will do so again. We are going way beyond what any government requires us to do. We are doing this because we want to create a truly circular economy in which we use a bottle, it is recycled, and we can use it again.
As we move forward, there will be obstacles to overcome so we can achieve our sustainability ambitions. But I am inspired by change and to take a leading role in addressing one of the biggest challenges for both our company, industry and society.