Soft drinks maker Suntory plots switch to 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles

The manufacturer of soft drinks including Lucozade and Ribena is planning to use 100 per cent recycled plastic in the production of its 500ml bottles by the end of the year, but it has also sent a warning to the industry that it faces ongoing shortages of recycled PET (rPET).

Suntory Beverage & Food said its decision announced on Friday to shift to use 100 per cent recycled plastic was a considerable investment, as growing demand for rPET was pushing up costs. The European price of rPET currently stands at 39 per cent more expensive compared to virgin PET, it said.

Recycled plastic has on average a 79 per cent lower carbon footprint than virgin plastic and the company estimates its switch to rPET across its on-the-go bottles will see a reduction in 36,058 tons of CO2 from its purchased goods Scope 3 emissions.

Suntory already uses 100 per cent rPET for its Lucozade Sport, Orangina and Ribena bottles, but requires further supply to achieve this for its Lucozade Energy brand. To address short-term industry shortages and ensure the firm meets the current requirement of 30 per cent rPET in its Lucozade Energy bottles, the company has invested in a 9,000 tonne PET resin which uses 30 per cent recycled material content processed by chemical recycling technology.

Chemical recycling – an alternative to mechanical methods – uses enzymes to break down any PET plastic to its core elements allowing it to be reformed into new food-grade rPET with the same properties as virgin material.

It is a process that Suntory has championed alongside the likes of L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters and PepsiCo as part of the Carbios consortium. The technology uses enzymes, which occur naturally in compost heaps, and adapts them to break down any type of PET plastic, regardless of color or complexity. The enzyme leaves behind a raw material which can then be turned back into virgin-quality plastic, it explained.

“Our shift to 100 per cent rPET for our 500ml ready-to-drink bottles is a huge achievement, and an important step in our commitment to achieving 100 per cent sustainable packaging by 2030,” Liz Nieboer, head of sustainability at Suntory Beverage & Food. “It’s the result of years of hard-work and while reaching this milestone is a cause for celebration, much still needs to be done in terms of recycling infrastructure. There has been a historic under investment in the UK’s recycling and collection infrastructures, meaning less than a third of bottles are turned back into bottles.”

In October, Carbios successfully launched an industrial demonstration plant for its enzyme-based plastic recycling technology. The consortium said it is now working “hand in hand” with its multinational brand partners to implement its technology and “lead the transition toward a truly circular economy”.

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