Joining a debate today (6 December) on developing circular economy strategies at the European Parliament, Nestlé executives stressed that a broader approach to resource efficiency is necessary if the group is to meet its 2030 sustainability goals.
“Nestlé has set itself an ambition for 2030 to have zero environmental impact…. With the means of today, we will not get there. But we are taking steps,” Bart Vandewaetere, head of corporate communications and government relations at Nestlé Zone EMENA, said.
While Nestlé is making progress on reducing waste within its production operations, Vandewaetere stressed that cooperation is needed to improve resource efficiency in its supply chain and also after Nestlé products reach the hands of consumers.
“There are two aspects to our ambition. Firstly, our own operations…. By 2020 we will have all our factories in Europe at zero waste. We are progressing a lot there on things fully under our control,” he said. “The real point is how we get to this zero impact beyond the Nestlé scope. That is what we need to address.”
Nestlé is “working a lot with all of society” but to achieve its zero-impact ambition by 2030 the world’s largest food maker believes that more must be done to build connections between private industry, European regulators and innovative start-ups. “We have this ambition, we are committed to it, but we also need more activities around it. We need to look at the policy here in Brussels,” Vandewaetere suggested.
Daniel Weston, head of legal, CSV and corporate communications, Nestlé Nespresso, echoed the company’s desire to foster closer working relationships between various actors in the sector. “Amazing things can be done with great ideas, passion, commitment and hard work… One of the things we are hoping we can focus on is how we work together in private-public partnership to develop a circular economy,” he noted.
Currently, Nestlé’s Nespresso coffee business is “particularly focused” on aluminium, Weston continued. “We need to think about how we get this valuable metal back into the upstream supply chain after use by consumers.”
Consumer education on recycling remains a significant barrier, Weston revealed, with recent Nestlé consumer research identifying a significant gulf between consumer perceptions and actions in this area.
“Somewhere around 95% of people claim to recycle. But then you go and see what they do and it is a totally different story,” he explained. “Consumers didn’t understand that certain products are recyclable… and if they did get the concept that it was recyclable they had no idea how to recycle that product…. We need to work hard on communication about recycling and then give [consumers] really simple solutions.”
Adapting the regulatory framework
Additionally, Weston said that recycling targets could be made more challenging in order to support increased participation rates. “There is a critical role to be played by the public sector, buy governments, to be bold and stretch targets,” he argued.
Patricia Lopez, environmental affairs manager at FoodDrinkEurope, also believes that European legislation must be updated to support increased use of industrial side-streams within the food sector itself.
Lopez highlighted the barrier presented by “different perceptions and regulations between member states to define by-products within the food industry”.
“Our producers have outlets that they can serve as a raw material for other industries either in the food chain or other sectors. These materials are initially classified as waste and they have to prove that they meet a set of criteria to be classified as by-products. This interpretation is different in other member states… It is relevant for us that there is a harmonisation in what is considered a by-product so as many outlets in the food and drink industry can go to other lines.”
European regulators will need to tackle this and other barriers if the bloc is to turn its rhetorical support of a circular economy into a supportive framework. Davor Skrlec, MEP for Croatia, highlighted the importance that the European Commission and Parliament are placing on nurturing innovative circular economy efforts.
“Innovation is a major pillar of EU policies and the circular economy is one of these pillars. We need to invest more in innovations… we are declining compared to the rest of the world,” he noted. “We must support our companies; we must support our start-ups because they are a source of innovation.”
Nestlé’s Weston stressed that this kind of joined-up thinking is a prerequisite to delivering results. “This is something that has to be driven by collaboration between the public and private sector. A supportive regulatory framework is the gift you in Europe can give to businesses as we work to … [create] something we are proud of for our children and grandchildren.”