Major FMCG players are making virgin plastic reduction a key target as 75 percent of consumers prefer environmentally friendly packaging, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
At a recent press conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared that the era of global warming has ended, and the era of global boiling has arrived. This alarming statement came in the wake of this summer's soaring global temperatures, with scientists confirming that July was the hottest month on record. The remedy for 'global boiling' is well known and understood: cutting greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to renewable energies.
According to the OECD, plastics account for 3.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Cutting their use in the packaging industry is essential to global carbon emission reduction efforts. To do this, major FMCG players, including Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, are making virgin plastic reduction a key target, alongside increasing the use of recycled plastics in the supply chain.
Arvindh Sundar, Packaging Consultant at GlobalData Custom Solutions, explained that packaging suppliers and companies in the food and drink industry are fully engaged in reducing virgin plastics across the supply chain. However, finding workable solutions of scale remains challenging and relies on the rapid development and deployment of new technologies and innovation.
Globally, plastics production has doubled from 234 metric tons in 2000 to 460 metric tons in 2019, with twice as much plastic waste being produced in the last two decades and only nine percent of it being successfully recycled, according to the OECD.
Consumers are expressing increasing concern and taking direct action over environmental and sustainability issues, while governments are introducing more measures to cut carbon emissions.
According to GlobalData's latest consumer survey for the first quarter of 2023, more than 75 percent of consumers globally consider environmentally friendly packaging material essential or nice when considering a product purchase.
The Scottish Government has highlighted the issue of reducing plastic packaging waste in the beverages industry with the planned launch of a deposit return scheme (DRS), which includes plastic bottles starting in 2025. According to Zero Waste Scotland, some 70 percent of Scots favour the scheme, which confirms on its website that it could cut 160,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions each year.
"Further government interventions could be considered if initiatives like this do not meet expected outcomes," said Sundar.
"While consumers strongly prefer eco-friendly packaging, the challenge for FMCG companies is to ensure they remain competitive in pricing amid the current cost of living crisis. Schemes like DRS can help since they increase the amount of recycled packaging and incentivise consumers to make more eco-friendly choices."
The packaging industry and manufacturers are further accelerating their efforts to reduce plastics in the supply chain. Global food and beverage companies have set several goals around virgin plastic packaging reduction and are developing a pipeline of new initiatives to help achieve them.
Kraft Heinz has set new goals to minimise the use of virgin plastic by up to 20 percent by 2030, having already transitioned to 30 percent recycled content for most of its bottles sold in the UK, Brazil, and European markets. In partnership with Pulpex, the company is developing a paper-based, recyclable bottle using 100 percent sustainably sourced wood pulp for its Heinz Tomato Ketchup product. A bottle prototype is being tested to determine its performance before being launched.
PepsiCo estimates its plastic packaging reduction initiatives could eliminate more than 400,000 metric tons of virgin material by 2030. To achieve this goal, the company is designing packaging to minimise the use of materials, switching to alternative, environmentally friendly materials and reinventing packaging to reduce the need for single-use plastics through reusable or low/no package models.
Coca-Cola Europacific Partners is investing in recycling start-up CuRe Technology to support efforts to eliminate virgin plastics in its bottles. The company has developed a 'polyester rejuvenation' technology that targets difficult-to-recycle polyester, such as material containing coloured pigments, transforming it into high-quality rPET. This has created a new source of rPET with a carbon footprint claimed to be approximately 65 percent lower than virgin PET.
Meanwhile, Plastipak Packaging and LanzaTech Global are working to create the world's first PET resin, PPKNatura, from captured carbon emissions, which has the properties of virgin fossil PET but carries a reduced carbon footprint.
"Industry players and leading FMCG brands continue to advance work on reducing virgin plastic in their supply chains by replacing it with plant-based and recycled plastic content."
Sundar continued that Although a game-changing solution to eliminate virgin PET remains elusive, the direction of travel is clear. Further new technological developments could provide a safe and commercially viable alternative.