Packaging is a resource that should never be wasted16 March 2021
Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, Nicholas Hodac, talked to Packaging Today about his sector’s newly revealed Circular Packaging Vision 2030.
What is UNESDA’s Circular Packaging Vision 2030?
It’s the commitment by Europe’s soft drinks industry to make its packaging fully circular by 2030. Our Vision pledges that by 2025 our packaging will be 100% recyclable and use a minimum of 50% recycled content, and that by 2030 our PET bottles will be made from 100% recycled and/or renewable PET. We also pledge that more than 90% of our packaging will be collected by 2030 and that we will use more refillable packaging.
We want to demonstrate that beverage packaging has a central role to play in a circular economy: it has value, is recyclable, is collected, and is used as recycled content.
A circular packaging is one that’s designed to be part of a circular economy: one that contains recycled content and is recyclable or reusable in a system where waste management infrastructures allow it to be widely collected and recycled or reused.
Our Vision applies to primary packaging – i.e. beverage containers, caps and labels – across the EU, Norway, Switzerland and the UK.
Circularity and a carbon neutral economy are key platforms of EU policy. Is this Vision a response to that?
Indeed, the Vision underlines our support for the European Commission’s ambition of making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and building a circular economy - including packaging circularity. We want to continue to be a part of the solution and to accelerate the transition towards a green economy.
Delivering the EU Green Deal to work towards a carbon neutral Europe by 2050 is a core ambition of this 2019-2024 European Commission - and something that is welcomed by the soft drinks industry. There are also a number of other EU policy initiatives focused on circularity including the EU Circular Economy Action Plan – which aims for a faster and more ambitious transition to circularity, and the Single Use Plastics Directive which already sets a number of targets including: 25% recycled content by 2025, 90% plastic collection by 2029 and 30% recycled content by 2030.
PET is the only packaging material to have an actual collection target under EU law, however there are 2030 collection targets for other materials as a whole – not just packaging: 60% for aluminum and 75% for glass. With our Vision we are looking to go beyond the requirements of EU law and drive-up circularity rates for packaging.
How are you going to achieve it?
Our members will deliver the Vision through the three equal pillars of circularity: Collect, Recycle and Reduce & Reuse.
Let’s start with Collect. We support the creation of closed-loop collection and recycling systems for beverage packaging. They will speed-up the achievement of our 90% collection target for our glass, metal and plastic packaging. We encourage the wider introduction of deposit return schemes (DRS) for PET, aluminium cans and other materials when it’s not possible to achieve a 90% collection level through extended producer responsibility schemes.
Next, we will focus on Recycle – using only packaging that is circular by design while at the same time boosting the uptake of rPET in soft drinks packaging. By moving towards more recycled or renewable material in our packaging when technically and economically feasible, we will also be moving away from fossil fuel sources. We will also continue to invest in recycling technologies to improve their efficiency and environmental performance. By combining mechanically recycled, chemically recycled and renewable PET we can reduce our carbon footprint while delivering our drinks in safe and sustainable packaging.
Reduce and reuse is the third pillar. It will reduce our sector’s packaging footprint and increase the use of refillable packaging. We pledge to use more refillable packaging by 2030 than we do today and are studying the best environmental and economic pathways to increase the use of refillable models.
We believe that packaging is a resource that should never be wasted and are ready to make long-term investments in accompanying the transition towards a circular economy.
What government policies do you need – EU and national – in order to get there?
We will need coherent, long-term action and support. We would ask that policymakers create conditions that allow the transition to circularity to be achieved in an environmentally sound and cost-efficient way.
Let me elaborate. Our members are ready to make significant investments to make this happen – so first and foremost they need a long-term perspective and legal certainty. We can’t have policies that keep chopping and changing.
We will also need a secondary raw materials market that works well and allows us to access the recycled content that we will need. With PET for example, there is increased competition for recycled content. The soft drinks industry needs food-grade quality rPET. That’s why we favour a closed-loop system whereby we get back what we put in. It would be a waste if rPET for the food and drink industry was ending up in car bumpers.
Increased investment in waste management infrastructure and collection schemes such as DRS will be necessary. People need to be incentivised to bring back their glass and PET bottles and cans so that they can be recycled and reused. We hope to get support from the European Commission in developing minimum requirements for DRS around Europe.
At the heart of circularity lies innovation. Europe will need a regulatory framework that encourages this and enables new and emerging recycling technologies. Governments will also need to provide clear definitions of recyclability that foster innovation and investment.
We are looking to the EU to address many of these issues in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive currently under review. There have been many initiatives from countries around Europe in looking to set packaging waste and circularity targets and to restrict the use of single-use packaging. We just need to make sure that these policies don’t restrict the EU internal market – something that contradicts the principles of the circular economy.