Although household brands such as Danone and Coca Cola illustrate that producing plastic bottles made from 100% recycled PET is entirely possible, what’s stopping them and others from scaling up?
In just five years from now many major brands will have to prove if they have been able to stick to their sustainability pledges. For many, increasing the percentage of recycled content in their packaging is an important part of that plan and this is slowly becoming a reality.
With a minor delay and marketing hiccup following a complaint dismissed by the Advertising Standards Agency, Coca Cola recently launched GLACÉAU smartwater bottles made from 100% recycled plastic. Amounting to 120 million bottles annually, smartwater is currently the only brand in Great Britain whose full range is made from recycled plastic. However, Coca Cola is planning to increase recycled PET to a minimum of 50% across 20 other brands in the future. Together, these initiatives will remove 23,000 tonnes of virgin plastic off the market.
Recycled plastic is also gaining traction in Bali, Indonesia, one of the key geographies at risk of ocean plastic pollution. Two years ago Danone launched a 100% recycled bottle under the brand Aqua, a household brand and the country’s largest. By 2025, Danone-Aqua aims to collect more waste from the environment than they use, and similar to the likes of Coca Cola, use a minimum of 50% recycled content in all their bottles.
But if they can do it, why aren’t we seeing more companies following suit or scaling up more quickly to 100% recycled content?
An article from the Jakarta Globe, covering the launch in 2018 stated that Aqua-Danone could only produce a 100% rPET bottle in a 1.1. litre format, which would be more expensive than other branded 1.5 litre bottles – suggesting that cost could be the issue.
As the technology is there and there is ample supply littered across our coastlines, this conclusion is entirely plausible. Using recycled plastic instead of new, virgin plastic costs more. At the beginning of 2020 the price for new plastic dropped, meaning that one shipping container of new plastic is approximately 800 euros cheaper than one containing recycled plastic (rPET).
Though costs may be saved upfront, the cost to our environment may be greater. Furthermore, protecting the natural environment is a pressing matter, especially for Western consumers, who have the power of choice in a crowded market.
Working towards 100% recycled plastic content should be on every business agenda, though it will be up to them to decide who will foot the costs. Although a recent online study suggests that some consumers would be willing to pay a green premium, it would be unfair to burden them with what has become an increasingly moral decision. Instead, the costs should be shared by everyone as we all have a stake.