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Absolutely Locked in on Sustainable Packaging

Global spirits brand The Absolut Co. drives sustainability and efficiency from bottle molding through shipping for glass, plastic, and paper packaging.

January 17, 2023

5 Min Read
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Image courtesy of The Absolut Co.

The tone of the recently released The Absolut Co. (TAC) FY21/22 Sustainability Report is summarized in the introductory words by company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Stephanie Durroux.

“One of the standouts that differentiate, reinforce, and define us as a company is a long-term and true commitment to sustainability,” she writes. “Sustainability continues to be very high on our agenda despite the global economic, logistical, and geopolitical challenges that we have all faced over the past year.”

The importance of packaging in TAC’s grand scheme comes into sharp focus a few paragraphs later. “Malibu [rum] continues to optimize the use of plastic in packaging. Decreasing the use of virgin plastic, while increasing the amount of recycled plastic in bottles and has also extended its successful collaboration with Plastic Bank by another year,” she reports.

It’s the perfect set-up in our summary extracting from the company’s packaging initiatives throughout the rest of the 59-page document. These include optimized sustainability found in reducing stretch wrap, increasing use of rPET and paper-based slip sheets, and continuing development of the Absolut Paper bottle and a new fiber-based bottle cap.

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We start with the go-to container in the premium spirits market globally.

About glass bottles…

“A fundamental part of our sustainability strategy is a commitment to make Absolut Vodka a carbon-neutral product by 2030 and we remain on track despite a challenging year,” notes Anna Schreil, VP operations. “Since our distillery is so carbon efficient, around half of the carbon footprint of Absolut Vodka when it sits on the shelf comes from the natural gas used in the production of the [glass] bottle.”

The company is aiming for 60% recycled glass content in Absolut Vodka bottles by 2025.

More about glass bottles and furnaces…

Tina Robertsson, director of sustainable performance, acknowledges that along with recycled content, the company’s most critical effort underway is substituting renewable fuels and introducing hybrid technology for the petroleum fuel used in glass production.

Another win is in increased recyclate.

“The work has been successful so far; in less than a decade, the share of recycled glass has increased from 36% to 53%,” Tina says. “Since the use of recycled glass reduces energy consumption and thus emissions, it makes a significant difference. In 2015 we reduced the weight of bottles, cutting their carbon footprint by 10%.”

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About plastic bottles…

Pernod Ricard set out to use at least 25% recycled plastic in its packaging by 2025. Today, Malibu rum bottles are made with 30% recycled PET (rPET).

“Our sustainability plans at the brand include a partnership with Plastic Bank to support a plastic recycling ecosystem in the Philippines,” notes Alexander Klismo, global brand manager, who's optimistic about increasing the brand's plastic recycling content in its largest market: America. "Most of our plastic packaging is sold in the US where the amount of recycled plastic content has been historically low due to a lack of recycling infrastructure. But there are signs of an improvement and we are currently exploring ways to get ahead in the US."

About cardboard dividers and wooden pallets…

“Last year we decided to remove all cardboard dividers in boxes for all Absolut Vodka Original in 700-mL and 1000-mL bottles going to Europe,” Schreil reports.

This has led to lower costs, better efficiency in bottling lines, and a reduced need for material resulting from slightly smaller boxes.

“We no longer use wooden pallets in the containers, instead using slip sheets made of layers of paper that are much thinner and lighter than pallets,” Schreil adds.

More about pallet slip sheets….

Today, several businesses within the Pernod Ricard Group use slip sheets or a blend of slip sheets and wooden pallets. The slip sheets are much thinner and lighter than wooden pallets — and with a tensile strength of 3,000 kg/6,614 lb, yet they weight just 1 kg/2.2 lb each. Plus they’re reusable and recyclable.

TAC uses them for containers shipped by sea, which account for 90% of shipments, enabling an extra 40 cases per pallet.

About reduced stretch wrap…

According to Harri Tossavainen, warehouse and distribution manager, TAC leverages proprietary market research with customers and to optimize shipments.

“We can make suggestions on the quantities of each order. We now utilize 88% of the space in the containers we send, compared to less than 80% before we started this project in 2010. Loading our pallets in an [optimized] way — 28 instead of 22 cases each — reduces our plastic [stretch-wrap] usage by approximately 45,000 kilogram/99,208 pounds per year.”

About the company's future in packaging sustainability…

TAC singled out these three developments going forward:

Reusable containers: In Asia, Absolut Vodka, along with other Pernod Ricard brands Beefeater London Dry Gin and Havana Club Rum, are aiming to reduce waste and carbon emissions by transporting their product to bars in bulk and using reusable containers five up to times bigger than 750mL bottles.

Absolut Paper bottle: TAC continues a partnership with Paboco to pioneer a fully recyclable, 100% bio-based wood fiber bottle, “Absolut Paper”.

“Over the past year, we’ve taken significant steps towards our goal and have conducted successful tests using Absolut Vodka Original,” Klismo explains. “In parallel, we are exploring another paper bottle for the Malibu brand; there is nothing like some healthy competition to drive innovation.”

A fiber bottle cap: The company working with the Glatfelter Corp., a paper mill that supplies  engineered materials, Swedish-based Blue Ocean Closure (BOC), and plastic packaging company Alpha Group.

“We’re developing an innovative natural fiber-based screw cap for Absolut Vodka bottles,” Klismo says. “These uniquely designed caps are made from air-laid material that is formed, reeled, transported, and pressed, resulting in a cap that is ocean biodegradable and recyclable.”

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