PepsiCo pursues several strategies to reduce plastic waste | 2021-08-27
CHARLOTTE, NC – Plastic waste has become an ongoing problem facing consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies as consumers demand solutions to single-use plastics. At SNAXPO21, held August 22-24, Todd Fayne, Associate Director, Global Snack R&D, PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, detailed the strategy for the largest snack maker in North America to meet its role in plastic waste.
“PepsiCo envisions a world where plastics never become waste,” he said. “Our philosophy is that we want to give plastic an alternative end of life. “
There are many ways PepsiCo can achieve this, from packaging reconfigurations, new materials, or even systemic changes in approaches to recycling.
PepsiCo’s strategy focuses on three principles: reduce, recycle and reinvent. Reducing the size of the packaging itself is a way for the company to save not only on plastic, but also money and improve the consumer’s perspective.
“One of the biggest complaints about our bags is all the headroom, and we know this is caused by product settling,” Fayne explained. “We’re working on how to improve the product rollout early on and improve those metrics. “
PepsiCo’s investment in recycling programs focuses on the systemic changes that must be made to maximize the impact of recyclability. Much of this work focuses on Europe and includes the latest technologies and strategies for identifying and sorting plastic waste.
This requires working with local governments, regulatory authorities, food manufacturers, and the Association of Plastics Recycling to drive collection and manage waste. Mr Fayne also explained that Europe is moving towards chemical recycling: breaking down packaging into its components to become virgin resin that can be reused.
“We support this because we realize that there will not be a system that works on a global scale,” he said. “We will have to have several types of strategies to combat this. “
These new technologies and systems, however, require some modifications to the packaging itself. For example, the bags have to be all polyethylene or all polypropylene, which is why PepsiCo has responded by removing as much polyethylene as possible from its packaging.
“We were able to go over 90% and in some cases over 95% polypropylene,” he said. “This allows recyclers to have a cleaner starting point rather than mixed plastics.”
Mr. Fayne also talked about the digital watermark that can identify the packaging material for the vision system that sorts recyclable materials. And then there’s the exciting prospect of how artificial intelligence can improve sorting systems.
“I think what’s going on in this area is going to be one of those breakthroughs that we need in terms of film waste,” he said. “You are able to teach these computers, and they are able to identify which bags are which materials, even with a small amount. “
In North America, PepsiCo chose to focus on investing in compostable packaging for several reasons. Although few Americans compost food waste, PepsiCo considers it a valuable activity for two main reasons. The first is the issue of waste. While all waste is bad for the environment, whether in the ocean or on land, branded waste damages a company’s image.
“If there is trash on the beach or at the park and it’s a Doritos or Cheetos bag, which will probably be one of us, that’s not a good branding image,” Mr. Fayne.
While the company doesn’t want its packages to end up in landfills, parks or the ocean, the harsh reality is that at least some will. By investing in compostable packaging, PepsiCo makes sure it won’t last.
Second, PepsiCo sees compostable packaging becoming more and more common in the future and one of the many strategies that companies will pursue and consumers will accept when it comes to single-use packaging.
In this effort, PepsiCo is focusing on polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) packaging rather than polyactic acid (PLA). However, one of the major challenges of compostable packaging is communicating and educating consumers. It’s complicated to say how long the packaging will last in the environment, Fayne explained, because temperature, humidity and soil will all have an impact on that time frame. This makes it easy for consumers and watch groups to call CPG companies that sue compostable packaging for breaking their promises.
“The communication aspect of this is something that has not been fully understood,” he said. “This is something that as an industry we struggle with: how to not only market it properly, but also educate consumers and government on how these polymers work. “
As technology improves and snack makers introduce packaging alternatives, consumer education will be another area they will need to address.