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How should the beverage industry reconnect with PET packaging?

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With the reinvention of plastic, how should the beverage industry reconnect with PET packaging?

In recent years, consumer resistance to single-use plastics has prompted beverage brands to improve their packaging, even switching to glass and aluminum packaging. However, not all plastic bottles are the same, and major brands are testing various options.

With global consumers generally more concerned about environmental health and more likely to buy products that promise sustainability, traditional beverage brands have a hard time dealing with the plastic issue. Mainstream soft drinks, bottled water, juices, ready-to-drink coffee and tea all rely on plastic.

But recent innovations by beverage brands suggest a different direction for plastic. Older brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi still rely heavily on plastic. Still, they are trying to offset the impact of plastic by investing in bottle recycling programs.


Reduce, not abandon

Bea Perez, Coca-Cola’s head of sustainability, recently voiced more significant support for the company’s decision to stick with plastic bottles rather than switching entirely to glass or aluminum. Previously, during the Davos World Economic Forum, she said Coca-Cola consumers still prefer plastic because the bottles are resealable and light.

Pepsi also said plastic “is an effective and sustainable packaging material when it comes to PET BOTTLE recycling. But it also acknowledges the need for plastic to evolve: for example, through lightweight and exploring new forms of packaging, such as biodegradable and compostable packaging.

Neither side intends to abandon plastic altogether. Both have invested in partnerships to improve recycling infrastructure and reduce their respective plastic use.

Coca-Cola says their plastic bottles are made from an average of 25 percent rPET and 75 percent virgin PET. It aims to be 50 percent recyclable by 2030.

Pepsi wants to reduce virgin plastic in beverage bottles by 35 percent by 2025 and increase the recyclable content of plastic packaging in its portfolio to 25 percent by the same year.


Improving recycling

Together with Keurig Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced the launch of the Every Back Bottle initiative in the U.S. in October 2019. The industry is led by the American Beverage Association (ABA). This organization will donate $100 million to improve plastic bottle recycling in four regions of the United States.

The organization has been operating since its foundation. On upgrading sorting, processing and recycling centers. It addresses consumer education about “disposable” labels and keeps bottles out of oceans, rivers and landfills.


Fighting for 100% and supporting innovators

U.S. plant-based beverage maker Rebbl is making good on its 2019 commitment to remove virgin plastic from the packaging by this year. Rebel says it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 922 tons of CO2 by converting 20 million plastic bottles to 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic each year.

The brand’s green packaging initiative includes converting used plastic bottles to new plastic bottles, saving resources and reducing landfill waste without affecting the price of the final product.

Rebbl said, “Transitioning to 100 percent recyclable plastic bottles is an expensive and complex process, but we are delighted to make it a priority as a mission-driven organization.”

By mid-May 2020, all of Rebbl’s 12-ounce beverages will be sold in the U.S. These new bottles will be labelled to advertise the recyclable material. The bottles will look and feel the same as the old packaging, and the recipes of the beverages will remain unchanged. All Rebbl bottles use 50 percent rPET before converting to 100 percent. The brand’s shipping materials are also fully recyclable or biodegradable.

Rebbl joins the ranks of other beverage brands that have pioneered the 100% rPET. Nestlé Premium Pure Water also uses 100% recycled plastic bottles in the U.S. It is marketed as reusable rather than single-use.

Evian is also introducing 100% rPET plastic bottles in some of its U.K. products and is committed to removing the use of virgin plastic in the U.K. by 2025.


Developing rPET for smaller companies

Innovation in plastics is being sought after by entrepreneurs as they transition to 100% rPET is costly, complex and potentially out of reach for smaller brands.

French water brand Paris Water last month began the Next Packaging Movement, a sustainable packaging innovation project. Paris Water said the three winning startups will have until 2025 to bring their products to market, providing them with technical, operational and financial support for a total investment of up to 1 million euros.

Biotech company PlastiSkul creates a bio-based biodegradable plastic from agricultural waste, converting plastic waste from micro-factories utilizing low- and high-tech methods deployed in underdeveloped countries.

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