Improve packaging design

In order to continue to offer consumers a broad choice of products, food and drink manufacturers use different kinds of packaging to best match the conservation needs of the product and consumers’ lifestyles. Therefore, food and drink manufacturers’ sustainable packaging design strategies are multi-pronged and fit-for-purpose. Key areas of focus are to:

Improve design for recyclability

While some plastic packaging, such as PET, can be recycled economically and environmentally effectively in Europe, the recyclability of other plastic packaging remains an industry-wide challenge. For a wide variety of products, multi-layer packaging and lightweight plastic packaging allow food and drink manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging used by weight, thereby using less fuel to transport and reducing GHG emissions.

The challenge for multi-layer materials are that they are made of multiple materials that are difficult to separate and can contain functional additives that make recycling more difficult. They also have a low market value as a secondary raw material, therefore there is a lack of investment in facilities to recycle these materials due to a low return on investment.

Lightweight materials (mono- or multi-layer) also face similar challenges since they are lightweight and therefore difficult or not perceived as valuable to collect and recycle. This means that even when these kinds of packaging are designed to be recyclable, the necessary infrastructure to process them into secondary raw materials is often lacking.

Food and drink manufacturers will ensure better packaging design can be delivered in the near future to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy model. This needs to be matched by actions taken by national and local authorities to ensure a consistent offering to consumers in terms of materials collected for recycling from households and the necessary and efficient sorting and recycling facilities.

The trajectory

Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative

As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative, food and drink brands, including Mars, Evian, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Nestlé have committed to work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier.


UK Plastics Pact

The UK Food and Drink Federation is a signatory of the UK Plastics Pact, launched by WRAP in April 2018. The Pact establishes ambitious targets to be met by 2025 which aim to tackle plastic waste, including a commitment to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Food and drink companies such as Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, have signed up to the pact.

What we have achieved so far:
coca_cola_companyAll of our cans and bottles are already 100% recyclable. By 2025, we will also ensure that our other primary packaging materials, including the cartons and pouches we use for some of our drinks will also be fully recyclable and compatible with local packaging recovery infrastructure. This is aligned with The Coca-Cola Company’s global pledge to use 100% reusable or recyclable packaging made in October 2017 as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.

Nestlé used black-coloured PP cups for its Magic Asia 5-Minute Instant Cup range, first launched in 2015. The black colour is usually achieved by the incorporation of carbon black into the PP plastic of the cup. However, such plastics are not detected in the waste sorting plants, since carbon black strongly absorbs both infrared and visible light, which is used to detect the different plastic fractions. This means that cups end up unsorted.

To address this, MAGGI Germany switched to a special detectable colouring. The new colouring allows the sorting of the cups as PP so that they can be recovered for recycling.

Unilever is publishing the full “palette” of plastics materials used in its packaging by 2020 to help create a plastics protocol for the industry. The company is also helping tackle the industry-wide sachet waste issue by investing in proving, and then sharing with industry, a technical solution to recycle multi-layered sachets – CreaSolv.
While much of its beverage packaging is recyclable, PepsiCo recognises that there are components of its packaging that inhibit recyclability and has started to address these challenges.  For example, in 2017 PepsiCo removed colorants from all Pepsi Light bottles in Spain to make them 100% bottle-to-bottle recyclable.
ANEABE, the Spanish bottled water association, developed a guideline in collaboration with Ecoembes, Spanish extended producer responsibility scheme, that collects design recommendations and examples of good practices in every stage of the PET bottle life cycle: not only for the bottle itself, but also for caps and labels. By following these recommendations, bottled water producers can contribute to increasing recyclability and improve their environmental performance.
Increase the use of recycled materials

Recycled content refers to the portion derived from used packaging rather than virgin material. Increasing the uptake of recycled materials in new products could drive materials recycling and boost innovation. For food and drink manufacturers, food safety is their highest priority. All packaging materials need to be fully assessed for their suitability to come into contact with any given foodstuff regardless of whether virgin or recycled, and this is reflected in EU legislation. Packaging materials that are in contact with food and drinks have to meet very strict requirements (Commission Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004).

While using recycled content in paper, glass and metal food and drink packaging is common, using recycled plastic remains a challenge. There are few plastic polymers, (mainly PET) that can meet the necessary quality and food safety requirements with today’s existing recycling technology and infrastructure, but these plastics are not applicable for all food and drink packaging needs.

We encourage the European Commission and EFSA to swiftly assess whether other recycled plastic materials can be safely used in contact with food, for instance, through better characterisation of contaminants.

Food and drink manufactures will continue to promote a market for secondary raw materials by integrating recycled content into their primary and/or secondary packaging on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that food safety requirements and EU rules on food contact materials are respected. It is also important that markets for using recycled material in non-food contact applications are further developed under the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

The trajectory

25% recycled PET in soft drinks and water bottles by 2025

The European Federation of Bottled Waters pledged in 2018 to be a driving force to collect 90% of all PET bottles by 2025 as an EU average. Bottled water producers will also collaborate with the recycling industry to use at least 25% recycled PET in its water bottles by 2025 as an EU average.

Soft Drinks Europe (UNESDA) adopted in 2018 a set of EU-wide ambitions to make the sector’s plastic packaging more sustainable:

  • By 2025 soft drinks PET bottles will contain a minimum 25% recycled material on average
  • By 2025 100% of soft drinks primary plastic packaging will be recyclable

Coca-Cola: 50% recycled PET by 2025 across its portfolio

In 2017, 24.6% of the PET used by Coca-Cola European Partners, Coca-Cola’s bottling partner in Western Europe, was recycled PET (rPET). CCEP will continue to work with the suppliers and invest in the rPET value chain. By 2025 CCEP committed to more than double the amount of rPET used, so that 50% of all the PET will be rPET.

In addition, in 2017, 4.5% of PET packaging was made from Plant PET. CCEP’s glass, steel and aluminium is made of 34% recycled content on average. In addition, 14% of CCEP’s PET packaging and 85% of glass packaging is refillable.


Evian: 100% recycled plastic by 2025

By 2025, Evian will make all of its bottles from 100% recycled plastic. This important pledge will be made possible thanks to an agreement with Loop Industries, which discovered a unique catalyst that breaks down PET plastic with zero heat and zero pressure.

The resulting monomers can then be re-polymerised into a new moldable plastic resin. All the additives and impurities in the waste plastic can simply be filtered out.

What we have achieved so far:

Lanjarón has been including recycled plastic in its packaging for years and, since 2016, all its products contain at least 15% recycled content. Now, the Lanjarón RED bottle contains 50% recycled plastic and is also 100% recyclable.

In 2011, Nestlé’s Herta brand began modifying ham trays by replacing PVC / PE with RPET / PE with a recycled PET content of 24%. To make this change, it was necessary to make big investments to modify the cutting and forming tools of 25 packaging lines. This modification was later extended to Bacon and Croque Monsieur trays. Today, 720 tons of recycled PET are used to cover Herta’s total consumption of 3,000 tons of PET.

Mars is using recycled board for nearly all trays (secondary packaging for small packs, pouch, bottles) in Europe. In the UK, Mars’ corrugate cases have gone from containing 54% recycled content to being composed of 100% recycled content today. Mars is also using rPET trays for Christmas seasonal items.

Detry, a Belgian deli meat company, uses a type of plastic packaging for their ham that contains 30% recycled APET. The packaging says that it is composed of recycled materials.

In Germany, producers of alcohol-free beverages founded a working partnership (AKÖG) in 2010, to introduce pledge-bound PET-single use beverage containers to the circular economy and to ecological enhancements. Main aims and achievements are the increase of the share of recycled content of PET-bottles, the reduction of the bottles’ weight as well as the decrease of the transportation distance to the centralised storages of retailers. In this context the quality community for PET-beverage containers was founded, it includes members from all sectors and the whole supply chain.

The community agreed on specific parts of the value chain (PET-recycling companies producing recyclate proper for food contact, beverage producers, etc.) on specific, PET-relevant quality criteria. This was an elementary pre-condition for further increases of the share of recyclates in PET-single use beverage containers over all sectors.

In 2010, Hansa-Heemann AG, one of the leading mineral water bottlers in Germany, began to produce the standard 1.5l bottle with 30% R-PET. PET bottles for the brand ‘hella’ are produced with 55% recycled PET since 2014. This year we extended the use of R-PET by equipping the brand ‘Fürst Bismarck’ with a 25% R-PET bottle.
Explore the use of alternative materials

Food and drink manufacturers will continue to explore the use of alternative materials with improved environmental performance.

What we have achieved so far:

In 2009, Coca-Cola introduced the world to PlantBottle™ packaging, which is PET plastic made from up to 30% plant-based materials, is fully recyclable, and meets the quality requirements of our core beverages. To date, Coca-Cola has distributed over 45 billion PlantBottle packages in 44 markets across 35 brands. Use of PlantBottle packaging has saved more than 48 million gallons of gas (petroleum is used to produce virgin PET), and also eliminated more than 430,000 metric tons of potential carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road. On a global level, the Coca-Cola Company has put forward its ambition to use 50% recycled or renewable materials by 2030.

Nestlé Waters systematically applies recyclable-by-design principles and carries out life-cycle analysis to minimize the environmental footprint of all our PET bottles. This includes looking at innovation and alternative sources for materials. Nestlé co-founded with Danone in 2016 the NaturALL Bottle Alliance to scale up a next generation of bio-sourced PET, using biomass such as used cardboard and wood pulp. In Italy, Levissima is Nestlé Waters’ flagship brand for the use of 30% BIO-PET made from sugar cane: 100% of 1.0L «LaLitro» and 16% of 1.5L sparkling products have this feature.

Since 2008, Danone has experimented with bio-based plastics (sugar cane, sugar cane waste and corn) for four brands (Volvic, Actimel, Activia and Stonyfield) in five of its largest markets (Germany, Brazil, France, US and Canada) with one goal: reduce the use of fossil resources. This has allowed Danone to develop an understanding of the environmental implications (lifecycle analysis), compliance with food security and critical sustainability criteria (end of life, recyclability, land use and farming practices, carbon and water etc.), associated business issues, stakeholder concerns and consumer perceptions. For example, Volvic’s new 1.5L bottle is made from up to 20% plant material—the first of its kind in France. Danone also co-created the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to encourage responsible development of plastics made from bio-based materials.

Flexible films are critical for PepsiCo’s snacks packaging, yet across the industry these films are not yet recyclable or compostable. To address this challenge, PepsiCo has entered into a collaboration with Danimer Scientific to develop biodegradable film resins made from renewable biomass to be used for next-generation snacks packaging.
Valio, a Finnish dairy manufacturer, was the first in the world to launch a gable top carton made of renewable plant-based materials in 2015 on a pilot scale. In 2017-2018, Valio is rolling out fully plant-based gable tops in all product categories using non-oxygen barrier carton. The development of plant-based oxygen barrier requires more time still. In the new gable tops, no fossil raw materials are used, and all plastic—even the screw cap—is made of plant-based bioethanol instead of oil. This means that the climate impact (measured in CO2 equivalent) of Valio’s new packaging is 58% smaller.

Unilever is using a plant-based material for tea bags derived from renewable sources such as corn starch, which can be industrially composted. In March 2018, Unilever launched the first fully biodegradable PG tips tea bags in the UK, made with corn starch. The aim is for all PG tips tea bags to use the new material by end-2018. The Saga brand in Poland, Red Rose in Canada, and SariMelati and SariMurni teas in Indonesia have also adapted their manufacturing process to use plant-based materials.

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