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Polymers

Nestlé will spend $2 billion to peel away from virgin plastic

Food giant plans to cut virgin plastic, use recycled plastic, and invest in new technology

by Alex Scott
January 23, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 4

 

Nestlé says it will spend up to $2 billion to reduce its use of virgin-plastic food packaging by one third by 2025 and increase its use of food-grade recycled plastic.

$1.5 billion

The additional cost Nestlé will pay for recycled plastic compared with virgin plastic through 2025.

$250 million

Nestlé’s planned investment in plastic packaging technology start-ups.

100%

The share of Nestlé packaging intended to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

To achieve this goal, Nestlé says it is committed to purchasing up to 2 million metric tons of food-grade recycled plastic by 2025 at a premium of $1.5 billion compared with the price of virgin plastic.

Historically, less than 2% of recycled polymer has been used in food-contact applications due to potential contamination issues, says Gareth Lamb, principal analyst at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. The main constraint on Nestlé’s plan will be securing supply, he says.

In a second initiative, Nestlé will put $250 million into a venture fund that invests in start-up companies developing novel packaging materials and recycling systems.

The Swiss firm’s new plastics strategy follows a 2018 commitment that all of its packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2025. Nestlé is taking “bold steps” to close the loop and make more plastics infinitely recyclable, CEO Mark Schneider says.

Nestlé’s plastics strategy is drawing mixed responses from environmental experts. Success by the firm “will significantly contribute” toward a future economy in which plastic never becomes waste, Andrew Morlet, CEO of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says in a statement put out by Nestlé.

Yet others point out that food companies have been moving away from recyclable packaging like glass to hard-to-recycle technology such as flexible plastic pouches. Environmental groups are critical of using recycled plastic and say Nestlé should do more to shift away from plastic packaging in the first place.

“Committing to use more recycled plastic without tackling consumption is not a silver bullet,” says Elise Vitali, chemical policy expert at the European Environment Bureau, a network of environmental groups. “Nestlé needs to massively reduce its addiction to throw-away plastic by, for example, switching to non-toxic reusable or packaging-free solutions.”

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