Food & Drink

UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe Goes Fully Circular By 2030

UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe wants to create a packaging that is the definition itself of circular economy. The association is building a new program around three pillars: collection, recycling and reducing-reusing. 

Launching its Circular Packaging Vision 2030 today, the industry commits to use 50% recycled PET bottles by 2025 and eventually 100% recycled and/or renewable PET by 2030. It also pledges an increased use of refillables and so that more than 90% of its packaging will be collected.

“We have a responsibility and we want to demonstrate that we are taking that responsibility and are committed to the transition to circularity,” says Nicholas Hodac, director general of UNESDA. “Our circular packaging vision is showing that packaging circularity is achievable in Europe.”

Indeed, UNESDA says it supports the EU ambition of making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and building a European circular economy – including packaging circularity. To achieve these goals, the sector will continue investing in technologies and innovations like mechanically recycled PET and renewable PET.

But all three pillars have a number of challenges linked to them. For instance, collection will depend largely on the type of deposit return scheme used to incentive consumers to bring back their empty beverage packaging – PET bottles, glass bottles and cans. When it comes to recycling, there is going to be a lot of competition for access to recycled content – particular to material that is food-grade quality. “This is an area where we hope the EU Commission will help us. As for recycled PET, we hope to get back what we put into the system,” says Hodac. “However, probably the most challenging part is going to be the transition towards more refillables because today we have very little information on how to get there and the only functioning market is Germany.”

The group is going to engage in a dialogue with the EU and Member states in the following months. The ‘packaging and packaging waste directive’, which will be presented at the end of this year, is expected to give a direction. UNESDA insists that coherent support from EU authorities and national governments will be needed, especially in terms of protection of the single market and investments in infrastructures.

According to Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe, however, “the heavy focus on recycling is disappointing to say the least” as “it places the emphasis on optimizing a largely insufficient system, when in reality the gravity of the situation requires actors like UNESDA to do their fair share to transform the system by putting waste prevention and reuse at its core”.

Simon adds that UNESDA should explicitly commit to make refillable beverage containers its essential priority, setting quantitative targets for refillable containers and supporting the development of well designed deposit return schemes across Europe. Also, it will be important “to ensure that this ambition does not incentivize chemical recycling of plastics”.

UNESDA’s pledge goes in the right direction yet the timeline could be more ambitious, notably when it comes to reducing the packaging footprint, increasing the use of refillables, and the 90% collection target for packaging – these commitments should happen by 2025,” says Simon. “Solutions exist and must now be developed at scale across Europe.”

Another debatable point is greenwashing. To avoid any form of it, UNESDA aims to be “very transparent”. “We are exploring two options: working with third party consultants to audit our compliances and being subject to the monitoring framework of the so-called ‘EU code of conduct’ developed under the Farm to Fork Strategy”.

A cultural change may help, but the industry needs “to ensure that we are making it easy and ultimately convenient”, says Hodac. “What is exciting is that the young generation all around Europe definitely has a green consciousness. Yet, some countries do extremely badly in terms of recycling. So a significant shift in the mindset will be required, but I’m confident that with the new generation we can get there.”


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