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What is Nestlé doing to tackle plastic packaging waste?

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Our vision is that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill, in oceans, lakes and rivers. We are working hard to deliver on it and help achieve a waste-free future.

To achieve this, our commitment is that 100% of our packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025. We’ve made a number of global commitments to get there, including the elimination of non-recyclable plastics.

However, to tackle the plastic waste crisis we know that our commitments to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable alone are not enough.

We are determined to reduce our use of single-use plastics, by introducing reusable packaging, new delivery systems and innovative business models everywhere we operate and sell our products. Building on our commitment, we will reduce the use of virgin plastics by one third by 2025.

In early 2020, we announced an investment of up to CHF 2 billion to lead the shift from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled plastics, and to accelerate the development of innovative packaging solutions.

Collaboration and collective action are vital for transforming how packaging is managed at end of life, particularly if we are to advance the circular economy. Recognizing this, we opened the Institute of Packaging Sciences in 2019 to enable us to accelerate our efforts to bring functional, safe and environmentally friendly packaging solutions to the market and to address the global challenge of plastic packaging waste.

In addition to the work of the Institute, we are working with value chain partners, industry associations and the civil society to explore different packaging concepts to shape a waste-free future. Such system-wide change takes time, but we are committed to creating a world without waste, and delivering on the commitments we have made to achieve this. Our company will also continue to play an active role in the development of well-functioning collection, sorting and recycling schemes across the countries where we operate.

Improving consumer information is also vital, and we’re committed to helping improve it by labeling our product packaging with recycling information – to help ensure it is disposed of in the right way.

Plastic packaging plays an important role in safely delivering high-quality food and drinks to consumers, and in reducing food loss and waste. We need to consider alternatives carefully before making changes.

We are determined to look at every option to solve these complex challenges and embrace multiple solutions that can have an impact now and in the future.

Why do you use plastic in your packaging?

Our packaging plays a key role in protecting food, preventing food waste and ensuring the quality and safety of our products. We use a range of materials, including glass, metal, paper and plastics.

Plastics offer a unique combination of malleability, availability, hygiene and safety, making them ideal packaging materials. The properties of plastic polymers also provide a lot of flexibility and freedom in design, whilst being lightweight but strong, enabling packaging to be tailored to the product. There has been considerable progress in ensuring the use of only a minimum adequate amount of plastic packaging to pack products safely, and the recovery of plastic at the end of its useful life. Nevertheless, there is much more to do. Indeed, plastic must not end in nature and we are taking action to help create a waste-free future.

How much plastic packaging did Nestlé use in 2018?

Nestlé’s total plastics packaging usage (including laminates with different material combinations) in 2018 was 1.7 million metric tons. This represents a third of the total packaging we use across our businesses.

How is Nestlé reducing its plastic usage?

Through our eco-design process, we are on track to reach our objective of avoiding the use of 140,000 metric tons of packaging materials by 2020, compared to a baseline 2015. By the end of 2018, we had eliminated almost 120,000 metric tons of packaging materials from our production processes. That is the equivalent of 10 Eiffel Towers in Paris!

We continue to optimize our packaging in line with our Policy on Environmental Sustainability (pdf, 320Kb), through material reduction and by using innovative materials or packaging solutions, to improve packaging performance. For more information on our packaging reductions objectives, please visit our dedicated section. We will continue to outline further initiatives and provide regular updates.

How are you reducing your use of virgin plastics by one third by 2025?

We will invest in developing and sourcing a wider range of recycled food-grade plastics. In addition, Nestlé will increase its target to use recycled content for its water bottles to 50% by 2025. These two actions, along with Nestlé’s continuous efforts to introduce alternative packaging materials and new delivery models, will help Nestlé reduce its use of virgin plastics by one third by 2025.

How are you phasing-out non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle plastics?

We have identified a list of plastics for which recycling schemes are unlikely to be established for food and beverage packaging that we will stop using in order to assist recycling efforts. We have introduced a 'Negative List' of these materials and a timetable to phase out their use across all of our packaging.

We have also started to eliminate plastics across a range of materials in our ice cream, confectionary and beverages businesses, as well as reducing the amount of shrink-wrap we use.

In addition, we are leading the shift from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled plastics. Aside from PET, most plastics are difficult to recycle for food packaging, leading to a limited supply of food-grade recycled plastics. We want to create a market for these materials and, therefore, allocate more than CHF 1.5 billion to pay a premium between now and 2025.

How are you developing alternative materials?

In September 2019, Nestlé inaugurated the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences. The Institute evaluates and develops various sustainable packaging materials, and collaborates with industrial partners to develop new packaging materials and solutions. We see seven major focus areas for our scientific work on plastics:

  • Packaging-free solutions
  • Removal of problematic plastics
  • Simplification of materials and packaging structures
  • Plastic-free packaging / paper
  • More recycled content
  • Bio-based plastics
  • Biodegradable / compostable materials
 

We also launched a CHF 250 million sustainable packaging venture fund focusing on start-up companies that are developing innovative packaging, refill systems or recycling solutions.

What are you doing to increase your use of recycled plastics?

Globally, our overall recycled plastic content use is currently 2%. Additionally, we use 5% recycled content in our PET water bottles today. We are committed to increasing the proportion of recycled content we use in our packaging and continue to explore all opportunities to create and obtain sufficient volumes of food- grade quality recycled content. This includes our investment of more than CHF 1.5 billion to pay a premium for these materials between now and 2025. This includes our commitment to source up to 2 million metric tons of food-grade recycled plastics and allocate more than CHF 1.5 billion to pay a premium for these materials between now and 2025.

You said that you were keen to "create a market for food-grade recycled plastics" – what does this mean?

We are keen to increase our share of recycled food-grade plastics. But recycled food-grade plastics come in limited supply. The economics of plastic recycling are complex, but in nutshell, it’s cheaper today for plastic manufacturers to produce virgin plastics than it is to produce food-grade recycled plastics. Our plastic suppliers need to receive financial assurances to make the leap.

Our CHF 1.5 billion investment aims to reverse that trend by making recycled food-grade plastic a more attractive financial proposition to suppliers – in hopes this will help to encourage the adoption of recyclable food-grade plastic in the industry.

You stated that you were keen to explore a wider range of recycled food-grade plastics – what do you mean by that?

We are planning to source recycled polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). These are plastics that are far more difficult to recycle for food packaging than PET, which is widely used in plastic bottles.

What will be the focus of the sustainability fund and what is its investment horizon?

Nestlé’s sustainability fund will focus on start-up companies that are developing innovative packaging, refill systems or recycling solutions. We have not set a specific timeline for the investments.

What do you mean by the 'simplification' of packaging?

The simplification of packaging is important to help improve its recyclability. In order to simplify our packaging materials and packaging structures we have developed and circulated to suppliers a set of 'Golden Rules' for the design and development of our packaging.

There are rules that apply to all packaging:

  1. Optimize the environmental performance of the packed product
  2. Optimize weight and volume of primary, secondary and transport packaging
  3. Use maximum possible recycled content
  4. Consider locally available infrastructure and technology
  5. Prepare appropriate disposal and/or recovery communication
 

The following rules apply specifically to plastics and coated paper:

  1. Do not use oxo-degradable plastics unless obliged by law
  2. Consider bio-based content for packaging
  3. Do not use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), polystyrene (PS), Expanded polystyrene (EPS)
  4. Prefer transparent or lightly tinted material, avoid carbon-based masterbatches
  5. Ensure residual products can be easily removed
 

How are you exploring degradable packaging materials?

In September 2019, we inaugurated the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences based in Lausanne, Switzerland. This institute has been mandated to accelerate the delivery of solutions to help us meet our packaging commitments for 2025. The institute will conduct world class research to fundamentally rethink packaging materials and how we use them to deliver longer-term sustainable solutions.

The institute, together with our global R&D network, universities and innovation partners, conducts leading-edge scientific research that spans all aspects of packaging. As well as conventionally material types, which are known to be recyclable, we are also exploring the potential of bio-sourced, and biodegradable materials and systems to determine which role they can play in packaging food products safely and sustainably in the future.

How will you help develop plastics collection, sorting and recycling schemes?

To address the global issue of plastic packaging waste effectively, we must work collaboratively with industry, local and national governments, civil society and consumers. As part of this approach, Nestlé will take an active role in the development of well-functioning collection, sorting and recycling schemes across the countries where we operate. Successful recycling requires an adequate infrastructure, which is currently not always in place. We have identified 17 'first mover' countries where we are focusing efforts to increase recycling rates, and a further 12 countries where we are focusing on achieving plastics neutrality. The exact nature and scope of the role we play will depend on the local context.

Do you plan to extend Project STOP beyond Indonesia?

Founded in 2017 by Borealis and SYSTEMIQ, Project STOP is a frontline initiative to prevent ocean plastic leakage by developing partnerships with cities and governments in Southeast Asia. The objective of Project STOP is to partner with city and district governments to enable:

  • Zero leakage of plastics into the ocean
  • Increasing plastics recycling rates
  • Social benefits – health, fisheries, tourism, jobs
 

In Indonesia, Nestlé has become the first food company to partner with Project STOP. The project will create sustainable, circular and low-cost waste systems that capture as much value from waste as possible. It supports the many existing local initiatives and informal waste pickers in coastal areas. Building on our learnings in Indonesia, Nestlé plans to roll out this model to other countries where we operate.

Are you opposed to bottle deposit laws and similar schemes?

We support the most effective and cost-efficient packaging waste management systems, such as deposit-return schemes (DRS), shared responsibility schemes (Extended Producer Responsibility), or pay-as-you-throw systems, based on what works best in the local context.

Nestlé Waters was the first beverage company to add How2Recycle information on the labels of our major U.S. brands. These labels include a reminder for consumers to empty the bottle and replace the cap on the bottle before recycling. In addition, we have invested USD 6 million in the Closed Loop Fund, a USD 100 million social impact investment fund that finances recycling infrastructure projects and community recycling programs across the U.S. This has resulted in 100,000 metric tons of materials being recycled that would have otherwise gone to landfills as garbage. The 11 projects currently funded by Closed Loop Fund should allow the recycling of an additional four million metric tons by 2025.

What are you doing about plastic water bottles?

With our aim to reduce the use of virgin plastics by one third by 2025, Nestlé will increase the amount of recycled PET it uses across its brands globally to 50% by 2025.

Over the past 10 years, we have reduced by 22% the quantity of PET needed for each liter of bottled water we produce. In 2016, Nestlé co-founded the NaturALL Bottle Alliance to scale up a next generation of bio-sourced PET, using biomass feedstocks that do not divert resources or land from food production, such as previously used cardboard and wood pulp. We are also incorporating recycled PET (r-PET) into our bottles where it is technically and economically feasible. For example, our Arrowhead brand in the United States now ensures that all its bottles made in California incorporate 50% post-consumer recycled plastic content. Most recently, our Nestlé Pure Life brand introduced of a 700-mL bottle made from 100% recycled plastic in North America, and Valvert launched a 100% r-PET bottle in Belgium. Our Poland Spring brand has also committed to reach 100% recycled plastic across its still water portfolio by 2022.

How do you respond to recent 'Break Free from Plastic' reports on packaging waste?

The latest #BreakFreeFromPlastic report highlights the continued challenges we face as a society, in tackling the issue of packaging and plastic waste. As the world’s largest food & beverage company, we know we have an important role to play in shaping sustainable solutions to tackle the issue of plastics waste.

We are aware of the scale of the problem. We make some of the most well-known food and drink brands in the world and many of them are packaged with plastic in the interests of freshness, affordability and safety. It is completely unacceptable for that packaging to end up as litter in the environment and we are working hard to make all of our packaging either recyclable or reusable by 2025. We also want to find ways to fundamentally change the way consumers receive and enjoy our products. For example we are rolling out the subscription home delivery service, Loop, in countries where it is available.

Changes will take time but we are working with our suppliers, with NGOs and with governments around the world to find the solutions that are needed to make reports like this a thing of the past.

What is your response to Greenpeace’s ‘Throwing Away the Future’ plastics report?

Greenpeace’s report highlights the challenges of tackling such a complex global issue as plastics waste, and reminds us that scalable and sustainable solutions can take time.

As part of our commitment to ensure that all of our packaging, including plastics, is recyclable or reusable by 2025, we are working hard to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and invest in innovative, alternative delivery systems including reuse and refill options. Our Nescafé, Milo and Coffee mate brands are already available via dispensers in many countries around the world for our out-of-home business. We are also rolling out Loop, the subscription home delivery service, in countries where the service is currently or soon to be, available. We know, however that in some places around the world, our consumers cannot afford to buy food and beverage products in bulk, larger formats or via subscription service. It is therefore important that we continue to offer a range of nutritious products to enable consumers — at all income levels — to access quality food at an affordable price and portion size. Our challenge is to do this in the most responsible way we can for both consumers and the environment.

More changes to the way consumers can enjoy our products are coming, but this cannot happen overnight. Unlike other consumer goods, regulation to ensure the safety and quality of food and beverage products creates additional complexities to the packaging changes we need to see; be this the materials regulated for use, to the way in which consumers are able to access the products. All of these considerations have to be factored into the innovation process.

In order to quicken the pace of change, we are focused on effective collaboration. We are working with value chain partners and industry associations to explore different packaging solutions to reduce plastic usage; facilitate recycling; and develop new approaches to eliminating plastic waste. In the steps that we take on this journey, we remain mindful of not creating unintended consequences in the changes we make. We are clear that alternative solutions must not be more environmentally detrimental.

Transparency by all actors is critical to achieving strong and collective action on the issue of plastic waste. We invite everyone to review the continued progress we make against our commitments, and hold us accountable for our actions. As a founding signatory of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, our progress is published annually. We were one of the first companies to publish our annual plastic packaging volume. As a company, we also publish detailed reports on our progress via our global website and through our annual reports.

The results of Greenpeace’s continued research and reporting on the issue of plastic waste demonstrates a clear and pressing need for the development of proper infrastructure to manage waste effectively around the world, both in the formal and informal sectors. It is imperative that all actors along the waste value chain including brands, packaging producers, industry associations, waste management companies, governments, and civil society, work together to bring forward the change we need to see.

Is it true that Nestlé has increased its plastic packaging usage by 13%?

No, the numbers have not changed. In 2018, Greenpeace asked us for information on the volume of our primary plastic packaging which we provided. The 1.7 million metric tons figure that we have publicly reported also includes secondary and tertiary plastic packaging materials.

How can you help consumers recycle product packaging correctly?

We are committed to raising awareness and informing our consumers about the right way to dispose and recycle our product packaging, including by labeling. Consumers have a vital role to play in improving recycling rates and we will engage them through educational campaigns on responsible consumer behavior. We will do this through our brands and through our corporate communications channels.

What about micro-plastics in bottled water?

Please visit our dedicated Ask Nestlé page on micro-plastics.

 


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