A $2 Billion Investment, and 3 Other Ways We’re Taking on the World’s Waste Problem

Exploring the efforts we’re making to reach our big goals in the new decade

Emily Zurawski
Jan 8, 2020 · 6 min read
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We know that packaging from the food industry is part of the world’s waste problem — too much of it is ending up in landfills, and polluting our oceans.

At Nestlé we believe in finding smart solutions. That’s why we’re going to invest up to $2 billion to lead the shift from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled plastics, and to accelerate the development of sustainable packaging solutions.

Packaging innovation is a key challenge on the path to a waste-free future, so we’ll launch a $250 million sustainable packaging venture fund to invest in start-up companies that focus in this area.

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In April 2018, Nestlé made the resolution to make 100% of our packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. The reduction in our virgin plastic use will be the equivalent of taking 127 million trash bags out of landfill. In 2020, our new investment proves we’re pushing forward with that goal.

As our global CEO Mark Schneider said, “No plastic should end up in landfill or as litter — we want to close the loop, and make more plastics infinitely recyclable.”

So what work have we already been doing to meet our 100% recyclable or reusable packaging goal? What challenges do we still need to overcome?

I took a look at some of our big challenges, and spoke to the people finding the solutions:

Challenge: Labels, bottle caps, and other small features are often unrecyclable

Solution: Address big issues by fixing those small details

Designing a product for recycling is no small feat. Across the nation there are tens of thousands of separate recycling programs, so it can be very difficult to create packaging that fits all models of recycling. Inks used in labeling, and details like bottle caps, have historically been damaging to the recycling stream, making it confusing for you to know what you can and can’t recycle.

That’s not a good system.

In 2019, we unveiled Starbucks Creamers — our first 100% recyclable creamer bottle. The Starbucks Creamer bottle uses recycling-compatible inks and materials, allowing every piece of the bottle to be recycled, from the cap down to the label — so you can just discard the whole container in a curbside recycling bin without removing the label.

Nicole Camilleri, our Senior Technical Packaging Development Specialist, is proud of the work of the packaging team. “We launched Starbucks Creamers in less than a year from inception to shelf, the fastest project with a custom bottle and closure Nestlé USA has implemented.”

“This innovation is paving the way for 100% recyclable materials for many years to come — with these learnings we’ve been able to expand and implement this technology to other products. We’ve launched Outshine Fruit Enhanced Coconut Waters, Nesquik Goodnes Oat Milk and select Coffee mate natural bliss with fully recyclable bottles.”

Challenge: To use recycled materials, we need people to keep choosing to recycle

Solution: Invest in long-term partnerships and inspire recycling behavior

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Recycling is still a relatively volatile business — for our suppliers, it’s essential that they continue to receive materials to recycle, and that businesses like ours continue to buy recycled materials from them in the long term.

In 2018, we launched the first water bottle in our portfolio made with 100% recycled plastic, or rPET. The Poland Spring Origin bottle is made entirely from other bottles and is 100% recyclable; meaning every part of the water bottle can be reused once recycled.

John Caturano, our Senior Manager of Packaging Sustainability for Nestlé Waters, knows we only have the capacity to make bottles from other bottles because you’ve taken the time to recycle. “It’s recycling behavior that’s driving this potential,” said John, “and we want to thank each and every one of you for recycling your water bottles because each bottle makes a difference.”

With plans to roll out 100% rPET bottles across more of our portfolio, we are increasing our need for recycled plastic material. We’re working with our suppliers to set up long-term contracts, ensuring that the demand in the marketplace translates into stability in their business. With the help of consumers like you recycling your water bottles, we can keep creating bottles from bottles, without buying new virgin plastic.

Challenge: Not all plastics are equally recyclable

Solution: Work together across industry to innovate new recycling capabilities

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Ever wondered how recycled materials are sorted? Machines use optical technology to separate glass, metals, and plastic. Not all materials are easily sorted by the machines — flexible plastics, like plastic bags, can get stuck in single-stream machines. That’s why they’re often not accepted in the curbside recycling stream.

That’s something we can change by finding solutions together.

Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) is a research collaborative comprised of industry leaders, municipal recyclers, and trade associations — all committed to solving the problem of flexible plastic recycling, which includes many of our pet food bags and also potato chip bags, sandwich bags, and other common packages.

MRFF launched a pilot program in 2019 — the first curbside recycling program in the US to accept flexible plastics alongside other recyclable materials, and we were proud to be a part of it. “This pilot program will identify the best way to collect, sort, and capture value from all recyclable materials, using state-of-the-art equipment to incorporate flexible plastic packaging into the material mix,” according to Diane Herndon, our Senior Manager of Sustainability at Nestlé Purina and a leader on the 2019 pilot project.

MRFF will be releasing a report in Spring 2020 with our findings, sharing results and key takeaways, getting us one-step closer to finding a solution to recycling flexible plastics.

This New Year, we’re making it easier to recycle our products, and helping create a larger market for recycled material. We’ll continue to work on the local level to upgrade recycling technology, finding ways to incorporate more plastics into the recycling stream, because our packaging materials should be a resource rather than a burden.

So what will the next decade look like? I can’t say for sure, but I can promise that starting inside our own four walls and with the help of our partners, we’ll keep working to cut plastic waste. Here at Nestlé, that’s our resolution.

More to Explore:

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