Cradle to Cradle - Businesses around the world are under pressure to operate as sustainably as possible and the global brewing industry is no exception. Understandably, the use of packaging is under the spotlight in terms of supply chain benefits, product protection and with the rise in consumer environmental awareness the packaging end of life and re-use. Reduction in the use of plastics, recycling, was the aim a few years ago but now business models need to move towards a full circular evidenced lifecycle solution.
Never a day goes by without high profile media coverage about plastic, the pollution of our oceans and calls to reduce plastic packaging. However, the fact is that we can’t live without plastic, and when it comes to food and beverage, it plays a crucial role in protecting what we eat and drink, ensuring it is safe and has as long a shelf life as possible. Plastic has an important role in the brewing industry as brand owners consider their packaging mix to ensure it is as economically and environmentally sustainable as possible – a tricky balancing act as more busis nesses seek to deliver the circular economy. But what do we really mean by the circular economy and are customers asking the right questions when they are making their packaging choices? Many producers claim to offer a sustainable packaging solution, but this isn’t just about the recyclabiltity of the products, but the complete lifecycle – from design, supply chain advantages, material use, to the responsible approach to collection and circular use of materials.
Supply chain benefits
Today, the focus is on being accountable to future generations, achieving the lowest possible CO2 footprint and dramatically reducing the waste of resources such as raw materials and water; ensuring that detergents do not contaminate the environment. Compared to traditional steel kegs, currrently the most common draught packaging, the environmental benefits of plastic kegs are significant. They dramatically reduce carbon emissions because they are lighter, their compact design means that they have a 25-30% higher loading capacity than steel kegs, meaning more can be transported in one go and no return journey is required. They also reduce water use because they don't require washing like steel kegs or use harsh cleaning chemicals. They also offer significant benefits over glass. In the production of glass bottles, the furnaces burn all day, consuming huge amounts of energy, producing CO2 emissions and contributing to global warming. A 30 l keg replaces 90 beer bottles or 40 wine bottles.
Even cans, that are positioned as environmentally acceptable in practice are not as green as we are led to believe.
Reducing material use
Many packaging solutions providers are working on projects aimed at the reduction of weight in their packaging. This is a practice that has been on-going in the small container manufacturing market for years. Reducing a bottle's neck height, wall thickness and base weight all reduce material use. Producers of plastic kegs are also focussed on reducing preform weight, balancing performance and weight, as well as reducing weight in other parts of the keg such as the grip rings and fittings, whilst keeping all safety aspects in the forefront of their packs aging design – also a key criteria or breweries when making their packaging decisions.
Although the industry is making advances when it comes to the recyclability of its products it is no longer acceptable to design a strategy where the recycling of the materials is the highest sustainability goal. The aim "to leave the world a better place" must be for full circularity to adhere to the cradle to cradle principle.
Standard recycling often results in down-cycling: it will turn old plastic kegs into a park bench or other low grade plastic product. OneCircle is investing money to put processes in place to use the KeyKeg/ UniKeg materials for the next new KeyKeg/ UniKeg. Of course, this is dependent on the development of technology, techniques and other influences. For this reason, innovation projects in (recycled) materials selection and sourcing, processing of materials and up-cycling of raw materials from collected used kegs are ongoing every day. The technology is sufficiently advanced to collect and sort plastics which can then be processed to be ready for re-use in the same or comparable products. This seems a no-brainer as it prevents the need for more virgin material to be used in the next new packaging product.
Re-use of raw materials
It is important that the recovered materials can continuously be used for new products. Contaminating PET with additives should not be accepted by those who are in the buying position; both from a producer as well as a consumer perspective. Instead it would be recommendable that buyers ensure that post-consumer recyclate (PCR) is used to create new transparent kegs. The least attractive way of recycling is chemical recycling, the benefit for the environment is only slightly better than incineration; the waste to energy solution. Therefore, products making use of blended materials for barrier properties, most likely only to be recovered by chemical recycling, should be considered less favourable.
Like many other industries, one of the biggest challenges is where packaging ends up after use. For a long time, much of it has ended up in landfill but this is no longer nece essary or acceptable. The Den Helder-based packaging specialist is fully focussed on abolishing waste to landfill and is currently operating programmes to make sure waste to landfill is a thing of the past. Initiatives such as the Plastics Alliance, initiated by the EU Commission, are creating a future plastics roadmap. Responsible providers have signed the declaration and more importantly, should be actively participating in the EU Commission meetings to find long term inC tegrated solutions in the supply chain.
All of us, as consumers, must be proactive in our behaviour, making sure packaging is disposed of in a responsible way using existing disposal and recycling infrastructure. Here, it is also important to hold the global/international, national and local lawmakers to account. They have a duty to stimulate collection and proper recycling means by law-making. For instance, plasmatics should be recycled locally and shipping to developing countries contributing to the ocean plastic problem must be stopped.
Improving the recycling infrastructure
One of the challenges the industry faces is the accessibility to recycling infrastruci ture which varies dramatically around the world. Recycling of large containers such as kegs is technically possible but, often, not applied, even though the pure, high quality materials used to make them is perfect for re-use.
For this reason, OneCircle has invested to create a community of customers, cust tomers' customers and waste collectors – all committed to closing the loop. Over the past 18 months, the Dutch company has created fully operational collection networks in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, France and Belgium and is exploring effective networks in other countries around the globe. Currently, this network is only used by KeyKeg and UniKeg, yet open to other providers on the understanding that the costs are shared equally. The collected kegs are reused to produce new kegs which means that today,
30% of a KeyKeg is made from recycled material thanks to the collection and recycling projects.
Creating plasic kegs in todays packaging world needs to be based on ongoing innovation which is strongly related to plastics re-use. Many providers are focussed on the 'easy wins' such as different size ranges in their portfolios and are mainly focussed the creation of the competitive edge in the market - to reduce the cost of the packaging cost per litre which does little or nothing to address the inevitad bly plastics re-use objectives.
Recyclability is not enough anymore when measured against today's standards. KeyKeg and UniKeg use 100 % re-used PP material, and for KeyKeg by April this year, 45 % will be made of re-used clear PET material. This proportion will increase over the course of 2020. In addition, KeyKeg's recycled content will be even higher by incorporating a substantial amount of recycled material in its inner container. Research in OneCircle's innovations team is ongoing to deliver full circularity.
For companies committed to circularity and its products, the focus is as follows:
- Handgrips and base cups are made out of 100 % circular materials (PP); supplio ers are requested to evidence this in their supply chain;
- the preform is designed to reduce the amount of plastics used. The lower the weight, the fewer raw materials are used;
- where possible, clear PET is used to ensure 100 % re-use by mechanical recys cling is possible;
- innovation projects, for bags and amber blended PET, are in place to support the full circular principles and deliver a susf tainable solution.
As an industry, now is the time to take greater responsibility when it comes to the use, recycling and reuse of plastics. Many breweries are founded on principles of sustainability and ensuring their production and products have as little impact on the environment as possible. Indeed, this is what the consumer wants now more than ever. So, the appetite is there to work towards achieving the circular economy – but this isn't a challenge that can be tackled alone. By building a community of like-minded industry players who are committed to circularity, this goal will be achieved through innovation, technical advances and challenging the status quo.
Link to this article in Brauwelt