In late 2019, PepsiCo set a new target for 2025 to reduce the use of virgin plastics for its beverage brands by 35% through the increased adoption of recycled content and alternative packaging. Here, Roberta Barbieri, Vice President Global Sustainability, PepsiCo, elaborates on the strategies the company is using to reach its ambitious sustainable packaging goals.
Why did PepsiCo feel the need to up the ante with its announcement of a goal of reducing the use of virgin plastics across its beverage portfolio by 35% by 2025?
Roberta Barbieri: We share concern over the growing threat that plastic packaging waste poses, and we recognize the significant role we can, and must, play in working to change the way society makes, uses, and disposes of plastics. Last fall we announced a new target to reduce 35% of virgin plastic content across our beverage business by 2025, which equates to the elimination of 2.5 million metric tons of cumulative virgin plastic. This is another step forward in our journey toward a world where plastics need never become waste.
Does this change or replace any previous goals?
It does not. The target we announced builds on our other packaging goals for 2025: to make 100% of our packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable and increase our use of recycled content in plastics packaging to 25%.
Among PepsiCo’s strategies for reducing plastic waste is the use of 100% rPET for its LIFEWTR bottles, the expansion of its SodaStream business, and the elimination of plastic bottles for its bubly brand.What will the use of alternative materials entail? Will it include the use of biopolymers?
Among the alternative materials to be used, beginning this year, bubly will no longer be packaged in plastic, and Aquafina will be offered in aluminum can packaging in U.S. foodservice outlets. Brand tests will also be conducted this year on the move to aluminum cans for Aquafina in retail.
Regarding biopolymers, as more carbon-efficient technologies like bio-based packaging scale, we’ll consider how this can further support our reduction targets.
In 2011, PepsiCo announced work on a 100% plant-based bottle. What is the status of that technology?
PepsiCo is continuing to invest in the development of more sustainable plastic packaging materials. Plant-based packaging is a more resource and carbon-efficient way of making plastic than through the use of oil-based polymers, providing a pathway for PepsiCo to improve the environmental impact of its packaging. We have been continuing to look for ways to scale the technology.
In 2011 and into 2012 we were able to produce a small number of 100% bio-based PET bottles, but that technology didn’t scale to be an effective solution for our packaging needs and business. Most recently, we’re working with industry partners as part of the NaturALL Bottle Alliance and through that work plan to develop fully recyclable plant-based plastic for use in our bottles, made from renewable feedstocks like sustainably farmed trees or agricultural residues that will not diminish food resources and will be less carbon-intensive than oil-based PET.
We are also innovating to transform our snack packaging to be more resource efficient. In India, Chile, and the U.S. in 2018 and 2019 we tested industrially compostable thin-film packaging for snack products that will biodegrade over time if disposed of in well-managed composting facilities. We worked with technology pioneer Danimer Scientific to develop this material, and together, we’re also developing a next-generation film that we aim to be fully biodegradable regardless of how it is disposed.
How will you avoid the discoloration and haziness associated with 100% rPET when you roll out your 100% rPET LIFEWTR bottle—a bottle known for its aesthetics—in the U.S.?
Just as we do with our 100% rPET Naked Juice bottle, PepsiCo will select the highest-quality rPET we can source for the LIFEWTR bottle. In 2020 and beyond we’ll have more brands around the world move to 100% rPET plastic packaging. As of Q1 2020, all our Lipton bottles in the Netherlands and Belgium will be 100% rPET.
How do you plan to overcome the lack of availability of recycled materials in order to meet your goals? What needs to happen to increase recycling rates and availability, especially when so many other major CPGs have made commitments similar to PepsiCo’s?
There simply isn’t enough recycled content in the supply chain today to enable us to reach our goals, and the only way to make more is to drive higher recycling rates. This is why we are investing to boost recycling rates and have also formed new partnerships to help develop enhanced recycling technologies.
Because higher recycling rates mean a greater supply of recycled plastic, we are investing in recycling infrastructure and consumer education with key partners, and we have joined a range of partners to help build new systems that we believe will make plastics use more sustainable.
PepsiCo and The PepsiCo Foundation are accelerating efforts to boost recycling rates across the world. Between July 2018 and July 2019, we pledged over $51 million globally in partnership initiatives, with a specific focus on some of the areas with the poorest infrastructure and highest risk of contributing to plastic pollution. Investments include The Recycling Partnership, Circulate Capital, Global Plastic Action Partnership, TerraCycle, Alliance to End Plastic Waste, Recycling with Purpose, and Recycle Rally.
PepsiCo’s new goals include the expansion of your SodaStream business. How do you intend to do this?
We have been working to create a portfolio of options that go beyond the bottle, meeting consumers’ individual needs and putting smiles on their faces, whether they’re at home, away from home, or on-the-go. At the heart of the Beyond the Bottle strategy is SodaStream. Over its lifetime, one SodaStream bottle can avoid the use of thousands of single-use bottles. Through the expansion of PepsiCo’s SodaStream business, an estimated 67 billion plastic bottles will be avoided through 2025.
Can you provide a very brief overview of the Hydration Platform?
The hydration platform is a connected ecosystem built to reflect how people drink water today that is made up of three components: a beautifully designed hydration dispenser, a companion, user-friendly smartphone app, and a personalized QR code sticker for reusable bottles that allows consumers to be effortlessly recognized by the dispenser. This ecosystem allows users to set their own daily hydration goals and automatically tracks their way to meeting them. Additionally, it tracks their environmental impact with a unique count of plastic bottles saved with each pour as well as over time saves unique preferences (like favorite flavors and carbonation levels) for future use.
Has the platform been launched yet? If so, what have been the results?
With our partners and customers, we’re continuing to test and optimize all aspects of our hydration platform—including branding. In fall 2019, we began rolling out our units in a beta test to select locations where there is a high demand for plastic waste reduction. We’re also working with travel and hospitality partners to bring our hydration platform to people who want to stay hydrated while they’re on the go.