Building a world where packaging never becomes waste
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Insights: Building a world where packaging never becomes waste

Insights: Building a world where packaging never becomes waste

Investing in sustainable packaging alternatives needs to go hand in hand with waste management efforts to improve collection and recycling infrastructure

Eugene Willemsen pepsico_CEO AMESA on ensuring packaging doesnt enter landfills Image PepsiCo

We are long past ‘sustainability’ being a buzzword. Of more concern, we are past the point of claiming ‘now’ as still a good time to act – that was yesterday.

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the world is veering off track to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Based on the current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that outline countries’ commitments to reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we are on a dangerous path of experiencing temperature rises of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels during the 21st century.

While there is a call for individuals to adopt climate-friendly habits at a grassroots level, corporations need to champion the efforts, and motivate consumers to change their behaviors through providing products that are sustainable and processes that are kinder to the planet.

In this vein, the UAE has declared 2023 the Year of Sustainability, as it gears up to host the 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28). The spotlight shines even brighter on World Environment Day.

This year’s theme – ‘Solutions to plastic pollution’, is one that no doubt raises the question on how soon all industries can take the big pivot to sustainable production.

Reduce, Recycle, Reinvent packaging

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, approximately 36 per cent of all plastics produced worldwide are used in packaging around which approximately 85 per cent of which end up in landfills or as unregulated waste. Addressing this issue requires a systemic shift to more circular solutions for, amongst other things, consumer packaging.

Packaging must urgently evolve to promote the recovery of materials, preserve value and prevent further landfill and pollution escalation. This demands multi-stakeholder collaboration and active partnerships across the entire value chain.

In this space, there are plenty of routes corporations can take to tackle their carbon footprint as they work towards their net-zero goals. First, they must evolve their product portfolios to enhance their intake of sustainably sourced input and reduce their environmental impact, while continuing to grow new business models that will promote little or no single-use packaging.

When devising steps to implement these circular economy principles, companies should consider three key pillars to streamline activity – reducing the plastics they use, reinventing packaging to offer sustainable alternatives, and boosting recycling. Practical examples of how to bring this to life include using refillable packaging, increasing the amount of recycled content in packaging by identifying new sources of recycled PET (rPET), and investing in new technologies.

In this context, R&D and innovation plays a key role in coming up with more sustainable packaging solutions. This ultimately feeds into the aim to decrease the amount of single-use plastic, companies put on the market, generating a significant positive impact on their environmental footprint lead.

Foster purposeful partnerships

Corporations can also use their industry leadership to support efforts to promote a more sustainable circular economy for packaging across diverse networks. For example, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce has recently established the Circular Packaging Association to drive positive action towards a circular economy through public-private partnerships. PepsiCo is a founding member of this association alongside peers in the industry including Agthia Group, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Nestle, P&G, MAF and Unilever.

Partnerships are particularly important when it comes to driving positive impact at scale. It is important that companies recognide the significant contributions they can make, but are also honest about gaps in their capabilities and genuinely drive collaborations that can help fill these voids.

For example, investing in sustainable packaging alternatives needs to go hand in hand with waste management efforts, in order to improve collection and recycling infrastructure.

To drive continued awareness towards the importance of consumer recycling calls for more educational institutions to work collaboratively to advance climate education. Tying into the earlier point of increasing investment into innovation,  there is a need for stronger support network  of stakeholders, to increase and enable impactful start-ups so we can all tap into their agility and creative mindset.

Young people in particular are comfortable in a world of dialogue and collaboration and uniquely motivated to contribute to solutions. They also have a unique power to influence behavior in their communities and urge policymakers to tackle environmental challenges. As part of the private sector, we have a responsibility to support in channeling this innovation in tangible and measurable ways, allowing for two-way communication with audiences.

Advocate for an enabling regulatory environment

With their wealth of experience and expertise, corporations are best positioned to collaborate with governments on shaping policies and regulations that support the use of sustainable packaging, the implementation of circular principles and the building of a robust recycling infrastructure. Events such as World Expos or the upcoming COP28 provide an ideal platform to make their voices heard on a global stage and drive towards a more considerate future for all. Policy advocacy behind-the-scenes is equally important.

Leverage connections with consumers

Brands can leverage their connections with consumers and their global reach to drive positive impact. Through consumer awareness campaigns targeting diverse segments of society, they can educate and inspire audiences to contribute to a more sustainable world, starting with responsible use and disposal of plastic.

Companies must work towards a common goal – inspiring positive outcomes through their brands and their actions, including informing consumers with transparent environmental labelling on key products.

If corporations join forces to embed a sustainable mindset into their operations, support smart policies that enable the circular use of materials and empower consumers to make sustainable choices through education, we will be well on our way towards building a world where packaging never becomes waste.

Eugene Willemsen is CEO of PepsiCo AMESA.

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