As many of our personal and professional habits have changed this year, and a majority of people spend more time in their homes, there’s no doubt society has noticed waste through a different lens.
In fact, Americans are deeply concerned about waste – plastic waste in particular. According to our 2019 This is How We Planet: America’s Perspective on Water, Packaging and Health Study, Americans feel they should be recycling more and expect companies that use plastic in their products to do more. However, those surveyed expressed facing obstacles in taking action.
These results are striking, but not surprising. We – industry, government, consumers – are working together toward change, which supports our belief that a collective, collaborative approach to recycling will help support systemic changes necessary for a circular economy. The future is filled with opportunity.
But first, let’s establish a couple important points:
- Plastics have inherent benefits and are a valuable resource – they should never be seen as a waste.
- Any piece of plastic packaging that ends up in a landfill, incinerated, or worse in the environment is one too many.
- A circular economy for plastics is possible.
Plastic sourcing and packing design are key.
In the U.S., less than 30% of plastic bottles get recycled. This staggering recycling rate is impacting our ability to reuse precious resources. Yes, plastic is a resource in itself. Recycled plastic is a sustainable packaging material and we need to, collectively, put recyclable bottles back to use.
So, how do we get there? Sourcing the right materials and shifting from using virgin plastic to recycled plastic is essential. Furthermore, it is critical to design bottles to be recycled and made into new bottles. Knowing this, we have been incrementally increasing our use of recycling content in our products.
We take great pride in carefully designing our bottles. We pioneered the lightweight bottle, pushed for greater source reduction, and we’ve reduced the plastic content of our half-liter bottles by more than 60% since 1990. We’ve also implemented industry-first label and adhesive technology to ensure our empty bottles are easily and efficiently recycled without contaminating the recycled material so they can be turned into new high quality, food-grade bottles.
Importantly, we’re making progress toward a circular economy. We have nearly a decade of experience using recycled content in our packaging and since 2018 have accelerated our use of it across six (such as Poland Spring, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Ozarka, Arrowhead, Nestlé Pure Life) of our seven brands. Furthermore, five of our brands now offer 100% rPET bottles (i.e. bottles made with other bottles) – proof that recycling and the circular economy work. However, our ability to expand our use of recycled plastic relies in part on increasing recycling rates across the country in order to increase the availability of high-quality, food-grade (standards that water bottles fall under) recycled PET plastic.
Pragmatic and progressive policy should exist.
Collectively, we should no longer consider recyclable packaging a waste that needs to be managed. Plastic is a resource that needs to be recovered.
Only 10 states have bottle redemption laws. In the states that have chosen not to adopt a bottle deposit system, we need to work to ensure that their single-stream programs, which, when designed well and appropriately funded, can be effective to reduce contamination and help ensure high value commodities are generated from those systems.
Pragmatic and progressive policy, including minimum recycled content bills and the modernization of bottle deposit bills are necessary to increase recycling rates and accelerate the transition toward a circular economy. We have and will continue to advocate for ambitious and thoughtfully designed recycled content standards and we support and encourage greater investment in the underfunded U.S. recycling system and its often-outdated infrastructure. This year, we were pleased Governor Newsom and the California legislature established the country’s first recycled content standard for plastic beverage containers, which recognizes the value in utilizing recycled plastic. This is a big win for all.
To make large-scale changes and achieve a circular economy, everyone has a role to play.
A systemic approach is required, and we are encouraged by the accelerated collaboration across the industry, government, and NGOs to address critical issues related to infrastructure, collection, and development of end-markets for recycled materials. These collaborations are helping all involved redesign, rethink, and reimagine today’s system and work toward the system necessary to achieve a circular economy for plastic.
There is still more work to do, but to help educate consumers, Nestlé Waters and Poland Spring teamed up with The Recycling Partnership to help consumers answer the question “Can I Recycle This?” through the #NotTrash campaign. The campaign helps residents recycle more and better by tackling one of the core reasons for low recycling rates: consumer confusion. In 2019, Poland Spring donated $150,000 to The Recycling Partnership to help improve curbside access to recycling and inspire more Americans to recycle more, better. In addition, to helping improve the recycling infrastructure, we teamed up with the Closed Loop Partners and made a $6 million investment in their Closed Loop Infrastructure Fund, which provides project finance to private companies and municipalities, creating economic value for cities by reducing landfill expenses and increasing revenue generated from recycled commodity sales.
We want to see a change and be part of the solution.
Since 2019, we have doubled our use of recycled plastic to 16.5%. This progress brings us closer to achieving 25% rPET across our regional still spring water brands by 2021, and 50% by 2025.
Although we all have more work to do, we are committed to being part of the solution and are optimistic that, through collaborative efforts to implement new business models, improve packaging and policy, while increasing partnerships to improve infrastructure and consumer education, we will achieve a circular economy.