Are FMCG companies leading the way on circularity?

Rylan Ellington examines the circular goals being made by the top five global fast-moving consumer goods companies following COP27. 

1. The Coca-Cola Company 

US multinational beverage corporation, The Coca-Cola Company is firmly committed to building a sustainable future and with the launch of its World Without Waste initiative in 2018, it aims to recycle as many cans/bottles as it produces. 

In February 2022 it announced a new reusable packaging goal with the aim of having at least 25% of its beverages worldwide by volume sold in refillable/returnable glass or plastic bottles or fountain dispensers with reusable packaging. The company has also reduced the use of coloured rPET in its packaging, to make its bottles easier to recycle. This includes turning its Sprite bottles from green to clear. 

A spokesperson for The Coca-Cola Company’s packaging partner, Europacific Partners (CCEP), told Inside Packaging exclusively: “We are committed to reducing the impact of our packaging on the environment and supporting a low carbon, circular economy. To do this, we’re reducing our use of packaging where we can and ensuring the equivalent of all the packaging, we do use is collected, reused or recycled so that it does not end up as waste or litter. 

“The roll-out of bottles with attached caps is the latest packaging innovation we’ve brought to the market. The new packaging design makes us the first major soft drinks company, in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, to make the switch. This makes it easier to recycle the entire package and ensures no cap gets left behind.” 

The spokesperson pointed out the aim is to implement these caps across all Coca-Cola brands and pack sizes by the end of 2024 and added: “Our 500ml bottles are now made from 100% recycled plastic, saving 29,000 tonnes of virgin plastic each year.” 

The Coca-Cola Company’s circularity goals:  

  • By 2030: Reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25%  
  • By 2030: Use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging. 

2. AB InBev 

Anheuser-Busch InBev, better known as AB InBev, is one of the world's largest beer brewers. It places sustainability at the top of its agenda with a commitment to supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and broader global sustainable development agenda.  

Since 2019 packs of its Jupiler beer brand have been sold with 100% recycled shrink packaging, transforming what was previously waste into packaging again. Then in 2020 the company made an investment in the UK of close to US$8m to replace plastic rings with technologies like KeelClip, a recyclable paperboard alternative. 

The drinks producer is working towards closing the circularity loop and having 100% of its products in packaging that is returnable or made from a majority-recycled content by 2025.  

In 2020 it launched the Return Home project in Bogota, Columbia, a country where it claims to sell one million bottles per day, to collect single-use plastic bottles for recycling.  

AB InBev’s circularity goals:  

  • By 2025: 100% of its products will be in packaging that is returnable or made from majority recycled content 
  • By 2025: 100% of its purchased electricity will come from renewable sources 
  • By 2025: A quarter (25%) reduction in its CO2 emissions across the whole value chain. 

3. PepsiCo 

US multinational food, snack and beverage corporation PepsiCo says packaging plays a key role in its overall sustainability agenda. It actively supports policies used to promote a more sustainable, circular economy for packaging, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programmes that leverage industry leadership.  

In 2021 the company launched its sustainability programme, PepsiCo Positive (PEP+) as part of its plan to build a world where packaging never becomes waste. The programme aims to make PepsiCo’s plastic packaging from 50% recycled materials and halve its use of virgin plastic by 2030.  

A spokesperson from PepsiCo told Inside Packaging: “We plan to do that by reducing the amount of packaging we use, working to ensure more is recycled and available for reuse and reinventing our packaging through exploring different models (such as reuse and refill) and innovating to use different materials.” 

PepsiCo has a goal to cut virgin plastic per serving by 50% across its food and beverage portfolio by 2030. 

The spokesperson added: “In 2021, we transitioned several brands to 100% recycled plastic bottles (excluding cap and label) across 22 global markets. On recycling, PepsiCo is seeking to improve collection and recycling infrastructure through partnership investments and consumer engagement. This includes our participation in the Holy Grail 2.0 initiative to improve waste sorting with invisible digital codes printed on packaging. 

“PepsiCo is developing disruptive and innovative business models and technologies aimed to transform the way the world thinks about packaging. We are partnering with Pulpex to offer the first 100% recyclable paper bottle at scale, and globally expanding SodaStream, a game-changing platform that dramatically reduces the need for beverage packaging,” the spokesperson continued. 

PepsiCo’s circularity goals:  

  • By 2025: Design 100% of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable 
  • By 2030: Cut virgin plastic from non-renewable sources per serving across its global beverages and convenient foods portfolio by 50%. 

4. Nestlé 

Swiss multinational food and drinks company Nestlé wants none of its packaging to go to landfill or end up as litter, and it is committed to reducing its plastic use.  

Nestlé says it has achieved four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) reductions through its projects. The company also explains that its Institute of Packaging Science and five-pillar packaging strategy, shows it’s building a waste-free future. 

“It is important to remember that food packaging is vital for protecting food against external influences such as moisture, heat, light, microbes or bacteria. Packaging preserves food and ensures it doesn't spoil. It also helps reduce food waste. Plastic has made food safer. The packaging of food is much more demanding than the packaging of cleaning agents, for example,” a spokesperson for Nestlé told Inside Packaging.  

Nestlé is cutting its plastic usage by reducing the weight of its plastic packaging by 35%. It was 1.5 million tons in 2019 and this reduced to 0.98 million tons at the end of 2021, as a result of the product portfolio shifts and packaging redesigns.  

The spokesperson explained: “We have moved beyond peak virgin plastic packaging, and we are consistently reducing plastic year-on-year since our highest level in 2019, even while our business continues to grow. Another way is through reusable and refillable systems. We have run over 20 pilots of reuse and refill systems in 12 countries, but we recognise that more needs to be done here. We will work with our retail partners to increase and scale up reuse and refill systems. 

“Another approach is by redesigning packaging or pioneering alternative packaging. As of 2021, one quarter of our plastic packaging that had previously not been designed for recycling had been improved and redesigned so that it could be recycled. At the same time, we additionally phased out non-recyclable materials. 

“We expect to reach more than 95% by 2025 and remain committed to achieving 100%. We also believe that it is important to support dedicated recycling infrastructure.”  

The spokesperson was honest about the fact a lack of infrastructure is currently the main barrier for a waste-free future.  

Nestlé is actively advocating for a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty and new, harmonised national regulations, which it believes will help to end plastic pollution.  

Nestlé’s circularity goals: 

  • By 2025: More than 95% of plastic packaging will be designed for recycling systems. 

5. Procter & Gamble 

US multinational consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble wants to push greater circularity for end-of-life packaging by working towards 100% recyclable and reusable packaging.  

The consumer goods company acknowledges that plastic waste in the environment is a serious problem and driving greater circularity for plastics will require collaboration. This belief has seen partnerships such as The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an initiative supported by over 50 companies committed to investing at least US$1.5bn by 2023 in solutions that stop plastic leakage to the environment. 

Procter & Gamble’s circularity goals: 

  • By 2030: 100% recyclable or reusable packaging 
  • By 2030: 50% reduction in virgin petroleum plastic resin in its packaging.