Developing bottles that never end up in a landfill

Scientists discussing how to create sustainable packaging Scientists discussing how to create sustainable packaging
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PepsiCo is rethinking every part of its packaging, from the label on the bottle to the bottle itself. The R&D team is focused on creating packaging that’s completely recyclable and in some cases reusable. They might even try to bring back the milkman.

Sustainable packaging — it’s important to consumers and essential for the health of our environment. Just ask Neil Enciso, R&D senior director, global beverages packaging technologies, who leads a team that’s responsible for package development and innovation for brands like Gatorade, IZZE and Naked Juice. He’s also responsible for setting the sustainability agenda for all PepsiCo beverage packaging materials worldwide.

How do you define sustainable packaging?

Making sure the package has a great beginning of life, with excellent design and use of sustainable raw materials, and a great end of life that’s not going to be detrimental to the environment.

Ideally, you would want to leave the planet in a better state than when you started. With that, one of our previous goals that captured it well is a world where packaging need never become waste. This drives us to a completely circular system where new bottles (for example) are made from old bottles.

What is PepsiCo R&D’s biggest sustainable packaging accomplishment for beverages so far?

The incorporation of rPET (recycled PET) into the packages. LIFEWTR, for example, is now packaged in 100% rPET. Naked Juice has been in 100% rPET for a while before that. We’re eliminating millions of pounds of virgin material. By 2025, we want to have 100% of our packaging recycle-friendly.

There is no one solution for sustainable packages. It will be a combination of technologies and delivery systems.

Neil Enciso

R&D senior director, global beverages packaging technologies

How does the R&D team help accomplish these goals?

PepsiCo R&D takes a new technology and tests it against different existing parameters and customers to figure out how it affects our system when we run it. Advancements in labeling have gone a long way toward enabling our packages to be easier to recycle. Our chilled Tropicana packages are a good example. Most of our chilled catalog has pressure-sensitive labels. Previously, the adhesive that stuck the label to the bottle was too aggressive — and the label would want to stay with the bottle when the plastic was trying to be recycled. We updated the adhesive used on the label so it is still aggressive enough to stay on the bottle through filling and distribution, but will release when put in the right temperatures and wash solution that recyclers use.

What is the biggest challenge with sustainable beverage packaging?

There are a lot of factors to consider when we look at sustainable packaging options. First and foremost, the packaging has to protect the product and maintain product quality, then we have to consider things like how much the material costs, its availability and the ability to run it on our beverage packaging lines. And, of course, we consider the environmental impact of both sourcing and disposing of the material. We need to be certain of all of these variables before we can scale any packaging across our business.

Do you have any predictions about sustainable beverage packaging?

There is no one solution for sustainable packages. It will be a combination of technologies and delivery systems. Drinkfinity is a great example of new ways of thinking. By having a system where the consumer provides the water, the amount of packaging is reduced by more than 60%. The “milkman” concept of return and refill is another wonderful model. PepsiCo is actively looking at how this can be accomplished. A major factor in this is having the infrastructure to not only fill the package but accept the package back in, transport and clean it and then refill. There is a lot of focus on how we could develop an infrastructure to accomplish this. Also, we’re taking another look at consumers’ habits and asking if consumers are ready for this model. Hopefully so.