PET Industry Tackles Climate Change Together

Demand is rising for more sustainable flexible packaging for food and beverages. Image courtesy of Sidel.

Collaboration is a Distinct Trend in Beverage Packaging

By Francesca Bellucci, Global Sustainability Director at Sidel

The PET (polyethylene terephthalate) beverage packaging industry is taking the challenge of climate change seriously. It has two main areas of focus: reducing emissions and finding new material solutions.

Beverage producers are setting ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not only for themselves but also the whole supply chain. This is because most of the emissions occur in the arena known as ‘Scope 3,’ which includes upstream purchasing and downstream consumption.

For example, when a packaging solutions supplier adopts green energy solutions in its plants – the business also encourages its own suppliers to adopt similar solutions. The industry is increasingly working together on emissions and energy reduction, and this is a distinct trend throughout the beverage industry.

Packaging producers and their suppliers are keeping PET within a circular economy loop by employing the ‘5Rs’ of reduce, recycle, reuse, replace and reinvent. Image courtesy of Sidel.

Higher consumer expectations

At the other end of the value chain, beverage producers are finding that consumers are far more aware of sustainability and have higher expectations when it comes to selecting their brand.

Everyone is, rightly, feeling the pressure to improve. Recent high energy prices, scarcity of resources such as water, and supply chain shortages are also helping to focus minds on sustainability, and will only increase our industry’s ability to innovate and find solutions that will benefit us all.

Reducing resources in production

In the production of PET bottles, ways are being found to use less energy in the blowing process. New blowers use up to 45% less energy than they did a few years ago, and existing lines can be upgraded and reconfigured to cut energy use.

At the same time, water consumption during production is being reduced. Aseptic bottling, related to the fast-growing category of sensitive products such as juice, nectar and liquid dairy products, can be performed using a dry process that cuts water usage completely.

Changing how PET is seen

Perhaps a bigger challenge when it comes to PET is changing perceptions about it as a material. PET beverage packaging is frequently associated with litter and waste. But the truth is that if it is properly collected and recycled, PET can offer the best answer to the current sustainability challenge.

Circular economy loop

The key is keeping PET within a circular economy loop. This means employing the ‘5Rs’ of reduce, recycle, reuse, replace and reinvent. PET packaging producers and their suppliers are working on all of these, starting with the actual design of the packaging to make it lighter weight. The average weight of a 0.5 litre PET water bottle has been reduced by half between 2000 and 2014 according to a report by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Innovations such as the steady edge bottle base can also cut up to 2 grams off the weight of an average bottle.

Making recycling easier

Bottle design is also playing a key role in one of the most crucial Rs: recycling. PET is already the most recycled type of plastic and big brand owners are setting targets for using higher percentages of recycled PET, known as r-PET, in their packaging. We are also seeing return schemes such as reverse vending machines that incentivise consumers.

Water consumption during production is being reduced, new blowers use up to 45% less energy than they did a few years ago, and existing lines can be upgraded and reconfigured to cut energy use. Image courtesy of Sidel.

Having the right recycling structure

Effective recycling requires infrastructure and regulatory or governmental impetus, which is increasing. Currently 63 nations have enacted Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) measures to encourage schemes such as product takeback, deposit-refund, and waste collection guarantees. Again, manufacturers are feeling the pressure to make a shift, by being asked to take on more responsibility for waste management.

This collective effort could help make a drastic shift from a linear to a circular economy model. Initiatives like R-Cycle, to bring to life the so-called digital product passport that the European Union Commission envisioned as a key boost for circular economy, is another proof of how seriously the packaging industry is coming together to solve the key climate change challenges we’re all facing.

From refills to bio materials

More refill options for consumers, both at home and on the go, are slowly increasing awareness of reuse as a contributor to sustainability. And perhaps the most interesting Rs are the ones that will rely on an innovation breakthrough. The packaging industry is actively seeking to Replace with more sustainable bio-sourced or bio-based materials, and is looking at ways to completely reinvent the way packaging is conceived.

Packaging as a resource

PET plastic packaging is not going to go away. Its use is forecast to rise, especially in Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and India. While PET continues to play a pivotal role in protecting and distributing our most precious products, the industry’s best option is to make this growth more sustainable. Packaging is a resource, not a waste: with a shift in our mindset, we will be able to ensure sustainable growth for ourselves and the generations to come.

About the Author

Francesca Bellucci is the Global Sustainability Director at Sidel. Learn more at www.sidel.com.

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