“It will take collective action,” said James Quincey, Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, adding that the consumer goods industry is working in a pre-competitive and collaborative space to make a real impact worldwide.
Coca-Cola is working to collect all products and reuse them, said Quincey.
Just as the industry has delivered products that are easy to buy and use, it now needs to make it easy to take back and reuse products, especially end-of-life plastics.
The European mandate that beverages companies collect 90% of all single-use plastic containers by 2025 has lent urgency to their actions, he said.
This has been done successfully in some countries – 60% of the company’s bottles worldwide are recovered, recycled and reused, he said – and innovation will make it even more efficient.
Even with existing technology, there have been successes such as in Mexico and South Africa, where recycling has gone from 10% to 70% in a decade.
Action on PET plastics is imminent, though other kinds of plastic will take more innovation.
From a long-term perspective, the value proposition has to be compelling – recycled PET bottles must become the norm, available at the price of entry.
“We are all fathers, we will be grandfathers someday,” said Ramon Laguarta, Chairman-elect and Chief Executive Officer of Pepsico.
NGOs play a big role, he said, adding that the “right level of tension supported by the right level of dialogue and finance” can lead to workable solutions that can be scaled up.
His company last year partnered with sustainable plastic company Loop Industries to create a circular packaging initiative, he said, adding that there are specific markets, specific actions and specific funds going into solving the plastics problem.
Problem most acute in developing countries
Much waste in China and India is dumped into rivers and ends up in oceans.
These countries need to design their waste management systems for 100% recyclability, to build the infrastructure and the value chain to collect used plastics, and to recycle and reuse them.
“It’s about putting a value on waste plastics, which currently people think has zero value,” he said.
Some things are much harder to recycle, and alternatives have to be found to reduce production and use of such materials and replace them with newer materials, such as packaging that biodegrades.
More recently, these efforts have been stepped up in what amounts to “mobilizing a global circular economy army,” he said.
But this is not true for all consumers.
In many ways, companies are ahead of demand, and by the time demand becomes big enough, they will have solutions ready.
Overall, brands that have a purpose – which show an impact on society – grow faster, so there is a clear incentive to move brands into that space, he said.
Education plays a crucial role; in Switzerland, for instance, kids think about recycling from the first year of school, but in the US or Spain, they do not.
Brands can play a role in educating consumers.