The right recipe for sustainability
Some 90% of Ireland’s packaging waste used to go to landfill – now it is less than 10%
Matthieu Seguin of Coca-Cola is chair of Ibec’s Prepared Consumer Foods Council. “We want to partner with NGOs and our customers to reduce waste and increase recovery and recycling rates still further.”
Ireland’s prepared consumer foods (PCF) sector has put sustainability and packaging reduction at the top of its agenda for the year ahead. As well as prepared consumer foods, the sector includes ingredients, value-added seafood, value-added horticulture and non-alcoholic beverages and is a significant user of plastic packaging due to the need to the requirement to keep food products safe and fresh. Significant progress has been made in relation to both recycling and usage in recent years, however.
Ibec’s Prepared Consumer Foods Council is the main representative body for the industry. “We have identified sustainability and packaging as priority issues for 2019,” says council chair Matthieu Seguin, general manager of Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Explaining the economic importance of the sector, Seguin notes that it comprises 500 manufacturing units throughout the country, employs more than 20,000 people directly, has a gross annual output of €4.9 billion, and generated exports worth €2.9 billion in 2017, a 35 per cent increase since 2013.
“Sustainability is very important for our members’ businesses,” says Seguin. “We also want to make sure we do good for the country. When it comes to packaging, the good news it that we have a system for collection and recycling that is working. It is called Repak. Before Repak was established 90 per cent of packaging waste went to landfill, now it is less than 10 per cent. Our members make a multimillion euro contribution to Repak each year. We make a contribution for every piece of packaging we produce.”
The Republic of Ireland has achieved an exceptionally high rate of packaging waste recycling as a result of Repak’s efforts, he adds. “Ninety-three per cent of all packaging waste is recycled compared to 79 per cent in the EU and 64 per cent in the UK. But we need to work on further educating people in Ireland about recycling and encourage them to collect more bottles and cans.”
The Team Green Repak initiative, which is backed by the PCF sector, has this as a central aim. The programme asks people to sign a “plastic pledge” and commit to recycling at least one more piece of plastic every week. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get involved in recycling,” says Seguin. “If everyone in Ireland recycled just one more piece of plastic every week, we could recycle 250 million more pieces of plastic every year.”
Recycling is just one part of the equation. “There is a lot of exciting innovation happening in PCF companies,” he notes. “They are looking for new ways to reduce plastic use and recover PET [polyethylene terephthalate]. We do have challenges, of course. Plastic offers benefits from a food safety and shelf life point of view. The new PCF technology centre at the Teagasc centre in Ashtown will help the industry meet those challenges.”
Coca-Cola is also committed to a sustainability strategy. “We have been in Ireland for the past 80 years and now employ 750 people across the island of Ireland with 450 of them in our Lisburn bottling plant,” he says. “Sustainability is not a new thing for us. We have a very strong track record of progress in that regard. For the past four years Coca-Cola has been in the top three global leading beverage companies on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.”
The Lisburn plant has racked up some impressive sustainability statistics of its own. “The plant has achieved zero waste to landfill for the past five years and over the past 10 years we have reduced our water usage by 10 per cent and our energy consumption by 20 per cent. Overall, we have saved 32 megajoules of energy across the island of Ireland over the past 10 years.”
This is part of the Coca-Cola World Without Waste programme. “We are investing to continue to reduce packaging, especially plastic. We have become a leader in design, collection and recycling, and we partner with other organisations and NGOs to help make the world a better place.”
All Coca-Cola bottles and cans are now 100 per cent recyclable. “We are also creating packaging that contains more recycled materials. By the end of the year, our bottles will contain 25 per cent recycled PET. We are also light-weighting; taking plastic out of bottles. Last year we reduced by plastic use 5 per cent by reducing the size of the lid by 1.3g 600 tonnes. This year we will work on light-weighting all our 500ml bottles. We are taking it one step further with Deep River Rock water. By end of summer we will have reduced the plastic in the bottles by 40 per cent compared to 2016. All of that comes about through huge investment in innovation.”
Continue its efforts
The industry will continue its efforts in relation to sustainability, he concludes. “We want to partner with NGOs and our customers to reduce waste and increase recovery and recycling rates still further. For example, Coca-Cola has partnered with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and An Taisce on the Clean Coast programme where we encourage people to get out and collect litter and waste from our beaches.”