It is unacceptable that any packaging is littered, and it’s up to us in the industry to try to ensure our bottles get returned and recycled, rather than thrown away.
At Nestlé Waters, we believe strongly that there is value in PET bottles, especially if they are properly collected and recycled. In Europe, the European Commission’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive is integral to creating the conditions for a well-functioning circular economy. The update to the regulation, expected later this year, will be critical to our sector’s success in reaching full circularity.
An opportunity to boost circularity
While this Directive has helped shift attention toward the circular economy and supported our sector’s commitments to improve its packaging footprint, it also led to a variety of restrictions on fully recyclable packaging with recycled content. Avoiding a patchwork of disparate national measures is key to achieving circularity, and so, this revision is an opportunity to improve several things. We need a clear differentiation between virgin and recycled material in the legislation. We also need a regulatory framework across Europe that incentivizes the high use of recycled content in food packaging.
The bottled water industry is counting on the Commission to give the discussion on circularity a push in the right direction to ensure every PET bottle remains in the closed loop. This is important because PET is not a “single use plastic”. It is not only the perfect material to protect our product, natural mineral water, but it is the material with the best potential to be reused in a closed loop. If collected properly and used for new bottles, PET bottles even come with a favorable environmental footprint compared to other materials.
PET from beverage bottles is already the most widely collected and recycled plastic material, with over 60 percent across Europe, and with above 90 percent in countries with Deposit Return Systems. But this still needs to be improved further to ensure a bottle-to-bottle, circular approach.
The role of DRS in closed loop PET recycling
First and foremost, we need to ensure that PET bottles are collected and recycled. At Nestlé Waters, we favor deposit return systems. This is when the seller collects a fee at the point of purchase which goes back to the consumer when the bottle is returned. These systems not only help prevent littering, but a deposit ensures that bottles are collected separately and are available for high quality recycling, to reduce the consumption of new, so-called ‘virgin’, plastic. We believe these should be managed as non-profit and centrally run, and recommend that the Commission gives guidance to member countries to boost the functioning of these systems in more markets.
Furthermore, we are currently facing an increasing demand for recycled PET for non-food purposes, including textiles or automotive industries. This makes the material harder to access for circular bottles, resulting in greater need for virgin PET. As a sector, we need our bottles back to be able to recycle them into new bottles – also to achieve, or exceed, the 25 percent target set for the EU. Priority access for the beverage industry to recycled PET from collected bottles is key to ensuring that every bottle eventually becomes another bottle.
The importance of innovation
Nestlé Waters believes that packaging policies should enable business operators to continue using and innovating environmentally favorable packaging solutions, moving away from a focus on bans or mandatory targets for specific solutions, such as reuse or refill quotas. As Natural Mineral Water can only come from a single geographical source and legally must be bottled at source, reuse for refill is not necessarily the best option. Instead, we would like to see stronger national efforts to enable a circular economy and improve collection and recycling and harmonize sorting labels for consumers.
When it comes to PET, we currently do not see a better alternative material on the market, particularly in terms of carbon footprint and the recyclability. But there is still plenty of room for innovation to enhance circularity further. In line with technological improvements, we are exploring the potential to include scalable bio-based PET in our bottles. And we’re working with others in our industry to support and advance innovative PET recycling technologies, like those of Carbios, to help increase the amount of PET that can be recycled. These new technologies will certainly, if scaled, help reduce the use of new PET plastics and ultimately bring down our CO2 emissions.
For more information about Nestlé Waters please visit: https://www.nestle.com/brands/bottledwater