Food and beverage giant PepsiCo announced Friday that it will reduce the share of non-recycled plastic in the packaging of its beverages by 35% by 2025, amid growing consumer backlash against the use of single-use plastics and a push for recycling systems to become more robust.
That shift extends the company's previous goal of increasing the recycled content in its beverage packaging to 25% by 2025, the same year Pepsi aims to make all of its packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable. In 2018, the baseline year for the current target, the company said its total "virgin"—or non-recycled—plastic volume was 2.2 million metric tons.
However, the 35% target will encompass some variation across regions and brands, said Simon Lowden, a president at PepsiCo who also leads the company's plastic initiative. While some brands are already made from fully recycled plastics—the Naked Juice brand, for example—he pointed to large regional variations in the infrastructure to collect, sort and process recyclable plastics.
"There's parts of the world where it's easier than others," he said, adding that Europe in particular has a strong system for collecting and processing recyclable material, while Asia is a challenge, and the U.S. is "somewhere between the two."
Pepsi's target requires progress not only in collecting good-quality plastic at a local level—the company has previously spoken ou about the need to reinforce U.S. recycling programs, which have been cut in many regions—but an expansion of the recycling processing industry itself, said Lowden. To supply Pepsi, the industry will "have to grow, absolutely," he added.
Plastic recycling is surprisingly hard to get right, due to a handful of challenges ranging from government policies and lax collection programs, to a lack of education about sorting, to soft demand for recycled plastics even once it's produced. Even in Germany—often crowned the world's top recycling nation—virtually all single-use plastic is collected, but actual recycling rates for that same packaging is just over 48%.
The push towards recycled plastic will also come at a cost, Lowden acknowledged.
"It is an innovative material," he said. "It will always be more expensive in the short term."
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