Purging plastic pains: Suntory APAC on why alternative materials and recycling efforts needed in unison
Sustainability has emerged as an increasingly important trend within the food and beverage industry in APAC over the last few years, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
This has driven many firms in the sector to set lofty sustainability goals, but within the region a great deal of focus has remained on the establishment of bottle or packaging recovery schemes and recycling, as opposed to the reduction and replacement of plastic.
One of the main issues faced by these firms lies in the difficulty of removing plastic from the food supply chain due to food safety concerns as well as the hot and/or humid weather here increasing the challenges of creating environmentally-friendly alternatives.
However, Japanese beverage heavyweight Suntory says it is determined to make a difference by focusing on not only recycling but also on plastic reduction and alternative development.
“In packaging, plastic disposables remain a major pain point but we believe that sustainability is an urgent issue that the F&B industry needs to tackle collectively [so] creating environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic packaging continues to be a focus area in Asia and beyond,” Suntory Beverage & Food Asia Pacific (SBFAP) Chief Supply Chain Officer Alan Smith told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We are focused on building sustainable growth through several ways, including experimenting and [innovating] new alternatives including more fibrous packaging that is resistant to humidity.
“[In terms of reduction], we have also been exploring methods to minimise the volume and weight of our packaging.”
This is not to say that recycling is out of the picture for the firm as the belief is that both alternative material innovation and recycling need to go hand-in-hand in order to make a difference in its sustainability ambitions.
“Our goal [is to achieve] 100% recyclable packaging by 2030 - At present, 93% of our packaging is recyclable and largely made up of cans (62%), PET bottles (23%), Tetra Pak (7%), glass bottles (6%) and rPET (2%),” said Smith.
“We have plans to migrate our full PET portfolio to rPET over the next few years in efforts to reduce carbon emissions - A prime example would be the launch of a 600ml 100% recycled plastic bottle across our PepsiCo portfolio in New Zealand in April 2022.
“Additionally, our upcoming beverage manufacturing facility in Queensland that is set to be ready 2024 will see the installation of carton multi-packers.”
The firm has an overall aim of hitting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to use 100% sustainable PET bottles by 2030.
“[Asia has also seen multiple] initiatives when it comes to plastics and packaging, including recycling programmes in Thailand and Vietnam, [as well as] the first recycled packaging (rPET) that was recently launched in Vietnam,” he added.
“The plan looking ahead is to work with partners and industry leaders [in markets such as] Indonesia where we are a member of the Indonesia Packaging Recovery Organisation.”
Consumer driven need
In contrast with common opinion, Suntory believes that the demand for sustainability in APAC is on par with that in the west.
“Recent studies have shown that consumer segments here are on par with western markets like in the US when it comes to concerns about environmental, social and governance issues,” said Smith.
“Emerging from the pandemic appeared to have a reset effect on how consumers approach health and wellness.
“This renewed consciousness appears to stem from consumers seeking products that not only do good for the planet, are ethically produced, but also as a gateway to better health.”