A £22 million revamp of three major UK breweries has been announced by Heineken as part of plans to cut plastic waste, ITV News can reveal today.
The beer giant will roll out new production lines at Hereford, Manchester and Tadcaster, replacing plastic multipack rings and shrink wrapping with a new type of holder made from recyclable cardboard.
Speaking exclusively to ITV News, the firm - which also produces other staples of the drinks aisle such as Fosters and Strongbow - said the move would take 517 tonnes of plastic off supermarket shelves by the end of 2021.
That's approximately the equivalent of 94 million plastic bags.
“It’s fantastic - people will be really excited by it,” said senior technician Amalka Woodall, who will be overseeing the installation of the new machinery at the Hereford site.
517tonnes of plastic removed from supermarket shelves by the end of 202194mplastic bags - around the equivalent to the weight of the plastic waste removed
“We all want to improve the environment, and our environmental footprint on the world. And plastics is a huge issue.
“It means a lot to people who work here - they’re really excited.
"They’ve been working with plastic for a really long time and we’ve seen lots of environmental improvements on site so this is just another step towards it.”
But while other drinks firms have powered ahead in this regard - Carlsberg announcing it was replacing plastic rings with glue dots in September 2018, and Guinness owner Diego announced the move to cardboard in April - Heineken has somewhat lagged behind.
Despite growing concern over the damage caused by plastic waste and high-profile criticism of single-use plastic products such as multipack rings in particular, until now, Heineken has kept a low profile on the issue.
Cindy Tervoort, marketing director for Heineken UK, defended the company’s record - insisting it had taken time to develop what the company sees as a genuinely sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to the traditional plastic rings.
She said they had wanted to ensure that all cardboard used was not only recyclable, but sourced sustainably too - and, she said, they also wanted to ensure it was easy for customers to pick up and carry.
This particular concern led to the development of a special ‘finger hole’.
Cindy Tervoort, Heineken UK's marketing director:
“We could have had a different version earlier on but we wanted to make sure that we ticked all the boxes and we didn’t compromise,” she said.
“We’ve worked really hard. So it’s 100% plastic-free, it minimises the total amount of packaging and it’s still very practical for our beer and cider drinkers - very easy to grip and carry.”
The biggest chunk of the investment - £15m - will go to the Manchester branch, where trial runs will begin before the end of the year.
Hereford will get £4m, and Tadcaster will get £3m.
Heineken said currently, less than 3% of the company's overall packaging was plastic - but the new multipack idea would reduce the figure to below 2% once it hits the shelves.
It will also cut the carbon emissions of a six-pack of 330ml cans by a third, the company added, as it aims to reduce total business carbon emissions by 80% by 2030.
80%reduction in business carbon emissions by 2030 is the company's target
Amalka said the investment was also a welcome boost for people living in the areas around the breweries.
“It’s important for Hereford, because it’s proving to the people and the region that Heineken is committed to the business here,” she said.
“It also shows we’re taking our role in protecting the environment seriously, too.”
Production will begin in April 2020 on the beer brands, with cider following suit before the end of the year.