According to the Forbes Global 2000, PepsiCo was the world’s third largest brand owner in the food and beverage market in 2018, underlining the fact that there can be very few companies capable of exerting a comparable gravitational pull around sustainability. Ahead of his appearance as a keynote speaker at the forthcoming 8th Global Packaged Summit, PepsiCo’s VP for sustainability, Europe & Sub Saharan Africa Chris Daly spoke to Tim Sykes about the environmental challenges for packaged goods and the need to follow a multi-dimensional, long-term roadmap to meet them.
In his role, Chris Daly has to deal with the fundamental questions of sustainability, and connect these up to concrete packaging strategy across a diverse brand portfolio. Of course, there is no more central and agonising sustainability dilemma for packaging today than plastic pollution vs climate change. Shifting away from plastics offers immediate-term alleviation of waste in the natural environment, but at the expense of a negative impact on carbon emissions. Let’s plunge into the deep end: how do we get out of this double bind?
“As we ensure that plastic becomes circular and we make the transition to renewable energy, hopefully in time this will cease to be a dilemma we have to face,” said Chris Daly. “However, today it is a genuine consideration and we have to face up to concrete choices presented by the available portfolio of solutions. As I see it, climate change is a fundamental challenge which requires our immediate attention, so we can’t justify prolonging the increase in emissions. At the same time, it’s very important that we address the circular economy, and in particular look at the economics of the recycling value chain. Moving away from plastic in certain applications is understandable as a short term measure. However, if you look at the environmental implications of replacing plastic packaging with glass, for instance, you have to be cautious about unintended consequences. The longer term solution is to have a full circularity in plastics – and we need to get there as quickly as possible.”
As our readers are well aware, ‘circularity’ can be interpreted in manifold ways. PepsiCo has tended to take an inclusive approach to the wide portfolio of circular economy options. For instance, it is an active member of CEFLEX, and therefore a proponent of universal recycling, while also being a founding partner of the Loop reusable packaging concept.
"The exploratory element is what makes working in sustainability so exciting: the opportunity to step into new ideas that are imperfect at the outset, and follow them through to turn them into really good solutions."
“There are merits and disadvantages with each of the circular economy choices we face,” Chris remarked. “However, I think the problems will be eliminated over time, therefore we should be pursuing all of these areas in order to deliver longer-term solutions for a waste-free packaging system.
“Until recently, the industry hasn’t been doing an effective job at design for recycling. Thanks to greater focus on this, a lot of companies are starting to ensure that products are designed to be easily recycled in existing systems. My own company PepsiCo is among those that are stepping up.” As Chris sees it, recycling will become the mainstream option of the future – as long as the value chain can perfect the infrastructure around the recycling stream, to eliminate the inefficiency and wastage.
But alongside recycling, there is scope for a mixed ecosystem featuring other approaches. “Bioplastics could be a very interesting area, and flexible plastics is a clear area that could benefit,” Chris commented. “Given the difficulties inherent in recycling flexibles and the challenges around developing an economic stream for doing so, potentially there’s an opportunity to mix flexible bioplastics with food waste. We also need to bear in mind the need to move away from fossil fuel, so plant-based plastics are a significant area to consider – as long as we ensure we source them responsibly, with no impact on the food chain.”
PepsiCo brands including Quaker will be trialling reusable containers in the Loop initiative
Returnable packaging, as exemplified by the Loop initiative, is another approach offering distinct opportunities (consumer convenience, elimination of packaging waste) as well as associated challenges (controlling carbon footprint outside large urban areas). “There are reuse models that worked effectively in the past, and we now have a great opportunity to step back into them and make them work even better, thanks to the available technologies today,” said Chris. In joining Loop, PepsiCo has two key interests: monitoring consumers’ response to the model, while