Nestlé USA packaging sustainability manager Walt Peterson discusses the pathway to make 100% of the company’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a focus on avoiding plastic waste.
2019 has already been a banner year for the introduction of ambitious sustainable packaging initiatives, programs and collaborations with major brands playing a prominent role. Exemplary of these is Nestlé, which in mid-January laid out its vision and plans for accelerating the global packaged food provider’s sustainable packaging goals. Some highlights include:
- Starting in February 2019, Nestlé will begin to eliminate all plastic straws from its products, using alternative materials like paper as well as innovative designs to reduce littering.
- Nestlé will also start rolling out paper packaging for Nesquik in the first quarter of 2019 and for the Yes! snack bar in the second half of 2019. Smarties will start rolling out plastic-free packaging in 2019 and Milo will introduce paper-based pouches in 2020.
- Nestlé Waters will increase the recycled PET content of its bottles to 35% by 2025 at the global level and will reach 50% in the United States and Nestlé Waters will increase the recycled PET content for its European brands to 50% by 2025.
- Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences (shown in the picture above) is exploring new paper-based materials and biodegradable/compostable polymers that are also recyclable, among other alternatives. This could become a valuable option in places where recycling infrastructure does not yet exist and will not be available for some time.
- Nestlé initiated a collaboration with PureCycle Technologies to produce food-grade recycled polypropylene (PP) from plastic waste feedstock.
The press release is posted at the company website: Nestlé accelerates action to tackle plastic waste.
One of the company's visionaries in these initiatives, Walt Peterson, manager – packaging sustainability, Nestlé USA, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions.
Which of these initiatives holds the most promise of making an impact short term? Which over the longer term?
Peterson: Our vision is that none of our product packaging, including plastics, should end up in landfill or as litter, including in seas, oceans and waterways. To achieve this, our ambition is that 100% of our packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2025.
We have a large portfolio of our packaging that is already recyclable in the U.S. In the short term, Nestlé will continue to play an active role in the development of well-functioning collection, sorting and recycling systems. In the U.S., Nestlé is involved with the Materials Recovery For the Future (MRFF) project, whose vision is simple: flexible packaging is recycled curbside and the recovery community captures value from it. After several years of research exploring cutting edge sorting equipment for recycling facilities and end markets for material, the project is conducting a pilot to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of including flexible packaging in a single-stream curbside recycling system. Results are forthcoming in 2019.
We are also providing more information on how to recycle our products on-pack, in partnership with the How2Recycle program.
Over the long term, we are exploring novel packaging solutions through the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences. The Institute will evaluate and develop various sustainable packaging materials and closely collaborate with industry partners.
What can you say about the participation in the Loop reusable-packaging-based program?
Peterson: Nestlé is expanding its global efforts to develop new packaging solutions, minimize its impact on the environment and protect the planet for future generations. Loop fits into those efforts by taking an innovative and disruptive approach to changing how products are packaged—and delivered—and how consumers enjoy them. It’s just one way Nestlé is innovating and transforming its business with sustainability in mind while still providing consumers a premium product experience.
Companies are looking for new ways to address packaging and reduce waste--and consumers are demanding it. Loop is an example of how the industry is responding to that and we believe consumers will be very interested in trying it out for themselves.
Next: Plastic decisions, benchmarks and more
The company has listed materials and structures it is eliminating. What plastics will remain in the packaging portfolio?
Peterson: PET will remain in the Nestlé portfolio because it is 100% recyclable, and we are committed to helping ensure those recycled PET bottles make their way back into the supply chain, so they can be made into new bottles again and again. In fact, our Nestlé Waters North America business has committed to achieving 50% recycled plastic content across its U.S. domestic portfolio by 2025.
[Ed. Note: Nestlé is collaborating with external partners and has formed a global partnership with Danimer Scientific to develop a marine biodegradable and recyclable bottle for its water business. For more information, read this article published March 4 by sister publication PlasticsToday: Nestlé taps Danimer Scientific PHA for biodegradable water bottle development].
What’s the downside in shifting from durable plastic packaging, and is the company willing to pay a premium for alternatives?
Peterson: Plastic packaging plays an important role in safely delivering food and drinks to consumers and reducing food waste, so we need to carefully consider alternatives before making changes. We are determined to look at every option to solve these complex challenges. As we evaluate new packaging formats, the cost impact will be variable. In some cases, packaging costs will be lower, some measures will be cost neutral, and in some cases the new materials may be more expensive.
What’s the “secret” to using paper packaging in applications that would seem to call for a barrier that may render the material structure hard(er) to recycle?
Peterson: We have to think outside the existing packaging formats. We believe that for paper applications, a new generation of barrier coating will allow consumers to dispose of such packaging in the paper recycling stream. In many cases we feel we may need to change the primary structure all together to promote recyclability.
Is the “plastic-free packaging for Smarties in 2019” specifically paper-based?
Peterson: Yes, the packaging will be paper-based. We are currently running trials on new materials and technologies to substitute these plastic materials starting later this year.
One of the plastic packaging components Nestlé will be eliminating is straws—when will that happen and what is the replacement?
Peterson: Starting in February 2019, Nestlé will begin to eliminate all plastic straws from its products, using alternative materials like paper as well as innovative designs to reduce littering. We are testing different options, including substituting plastic straws for paper and designing drinkable spouts to eliminate straws altogether. These pilots will help us identify how best we can eliminate plastic straws in the shortest possible timeframe. We will report on our progress regularly.
What metrics and benchmarks is the company using to determine how it is progressing?
Peterson: We have made a number of global commitments to help achieve this, including the elimination of non-recyclable plastics. Nestlé is working toward the following global objectives by 2020:
- Continue to systematically analyze and optimize our packaging portfolio, avoiding the use of at least 140,000 tonnes of packaging material from 2015 to 2020; and
- Drive alliances with relevant stakeholders to address packaging waste management and marine littering in 10 relevant markets.
What’s the biggest challenge to all of the above in pivoting to a sustainable packaging-led company?
Peterson: Nestlé is driven by its purpose: enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. Nestlé has always had a sustainable mindset for packaging, but we felt it was important to set an ambitious goal: 100% of our packaging will be reusable or recyclable by 2025. We realize that much more work is required to make this vision a reality, but we are determined to get there.
Lastly, where does reducing food waste fit and is it part of the company’s sustainability initiative? What technologies can be leveraged to address this issue?
Peterson: Nestlé is striving to achieve zero environmental impact across our operations by 2030. Our commitment to reduce food loss and waste is a key part of that ambition. We’re working to achieve zero disposal in all of our sites globally by 2020. We are also addressing food waste at the consumption stage by making date labels more understandable to our consumers. Through a number of partnerships and alliances, we work to educate individuals and families about food loss and waste, offering on-pack guidance and developing creative solutions for using up leftovers. For multiserve products, we incorporate packaging features and guidance that allow the consumer to keep the product fresh longer. Some of these features include reclosable caps and zippers on flexible packaging.
To watch the video of Nestlé’s Walt Peterson presenting the company’s sustainable packaging positioning live, see How Nestlé is innovating its way to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging, published February 2019.
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