Friday 18 October 2019

'This is not about us, it’s about doing the right thing.' – How one business is leading the way towards sustainable plastic

Mark Aherne
Mark Aherne

Rachael Taylor Fawsitt

With sustainability at the top of many global agendas, business owners must take ownership of their carbon footprint.

From formulation, to transport logistics, to packaging, there are many elements to consider when operating an environmentally sustainable business. All of which are achievable, according to Mark Aherne, General Manager at Lucozade Ribena Suntory Ireland (LRSI).

With an aim to revolutionise the drinks industry, LRSI is continuing with its mission to coexist with people and nature by driving towards fully recycled or plant-based materials across its entire portfolio by 2030. This plan will see the company moving away from virgin plastic working towards eliminating fossil fuels from its bottle production.

Japanese innovation

Since being taken over in January 2014, by the Tokyo based company Suntory, the key vision of ‘Growing for Good’ has been at the core of LRSI.

As well as adopting the philosophy, the company has also been able to benefit from its link to Japanese innovation, creating a strategy to reduce plastic waste.

“Our whole ethos is around water and its harmony with nature, it’s about people and society. Whether that is reformulation or bringing out more eco-friendly packs, that’s always been at the centre of what the company wants to do.”

Mark explains that when you break their goal down to its simplest form, they want to play their part in creating a cleaner, greener future for the planet.

“It’s quite simple from our perspective, we want to do our bit around plastic waste in general. Plastic waste is an issue that is not in any way sustainable and it’s something that we need to address. So, we’ve unveiled a plan that we will aim to use plastic that has been previously used or bio-sourced (plant-based) by 2030. That will give us a circular economy, where it goes out as a plastic bottle and comes back as a plastic bottle.”

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Glass vs plastic

The company is no stranger to sustainability efforts and has been working on reducing its carbon footprint for many years. Starting with the switch from glass to polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Although there is a common misconception that glass is an eco-friendly solution to PET, Mark explains that when you look at the entire manufacturing process of a product, glass has the highest carbon footprint.

 “One of the things that we as a company have been working on is our carbon footprint and our emissions. Not so long ago, we would have had our entire range in glass; we moved that all to PET about 14 or 15 years ago. Now we’re going that next step to ensure there is a fully circular economy. To transport a container of Lucozade in glass versus a container of Lucozade in PET, the carbon footprint and energy it takes for a truck to move the weight alone is colossal.”

Design

To be a truly sustainable operation means examining all areas of the business and making changes where necessary. To reach the point of using 100pc sustainable plastic bottles, it starts with changes to the current bottle designs, as well as the labelling.

“We are looking at all of our sleeving over the next two years to make sure that our bottles are even more recyclable. We’re also committed to a tethered-cap by 2024. What that means is that the cap on the bottles cannot become separated. If you can’t take it off and throw it away, it will stay as part of the bottle.”

According to the latest stats from Food Drink Ireland, 70pc of all packaging is being recycled in Ireland. LRSI sees the changes its making as an intrinsic way to help increase this number.

“A cap can get discarded very quickly on opening, so a bigger unit has a far better chance of making it to full recyclability.”

“You’ll notice on our bottles that we have a“zip”, that’s to encourage people to separate the packaging from the actual bottle as part of the recycling process. We’re looking at doing reduced sleeving over the next 18 to 24 months across our entire range, so it will be more like a band.”

As well as revising its entire range, LRSI is working toward a sustainable future which will include any new products being launched. 

“All new product development coming out, first and foremost, will have a sustainable proposition around it with regards to packaging. So, we might have a great product, but if it’s not going to be able to be transported or consumed in a sustainable package, it won’t get past go.”

Technology

As technology evolves over the next decade, so too will the LRSI mission. The company plans to use 50pc sustainable bottles by 2025 and 100pc bottle-to-bottle recyclables by 2025.

“Not all of the technology is currently available, that is going to be evolved, hence the ten-year plan,” explains Mark. “We’ve teamed up with a company called Anellotech and we’re working with them on the development of a plant-based/bio-sourced material to ensure that we have a reduction in carbon footprint and that we have technology fully resourced so that our factories can feed off that.”

 “At the moment, the way the bottle is made up, it’s a mixture of virgin plastic and recycled plastic. What we’re saying is that we will be taking all new plastic out of our bottles and everything will be recycled.”

As well as investing in future technology, Mark says that by upgrading their production lines and using their own sources of water, they are already seeing reductions in their energy consumption.

“We’ve just made a couple of big investments on a number of the lines. By making investments on the production lines, they use far less energy which reduces the carbon footprint. Efficient machinery is hugely important, the latest technology uses far less energy consumption to produce our drinks”

“We are also using water from our own wells,” he explains. “That’s cutting down on a lot of costs and transporting unnecessarily heavy items. There are a number of small moves you can make, that can help the overall carbon footprint.”

“It’s a big investment for us, but it’s the right thing to do. It comes back to those Suntory beliefs, they didn’t buy this company to just commercialise it, it was also to try and innovate and do the right thing with everything that we do.”

Encouraging others

With hopes to encourage other businesses to take stock of the role they are playing in CO2 emissions and plastic waste, LRSI has an exciting 10 years ahead.

“This is not about us, it’s about doing the right thing,” Mark enthuses. “We’re trying to revolutionise drinking and that’s not just about what’s in the bottle, it’s also about the bottle itself. I hope by us doing this, that others see that there are a number of companies who are moving in that direction.”

“It is a company-wide initiative that we’re making, and we’re absolutely focused on it. It’s about us driving sustainability within the company and we’re doing that both in our formulations and our packaging. So, it’s a full gamut of what it is we’re trying to do.”

Mark says that every sector has a role to play in the mission to tackle plastic waste.

“If we take the current typical supermarket in Ireland, plastic waste is playing a huge part in there. From fruit and veg, to absolutely everything. Even things like the type of printing processes used on a lot of products don’t allow them to be recycled. It goes across every sector, from fresh to frozen, it’s about looking and taking stock of the role they are playing in sustainability. We’re just playing our small part in this whole plastic issue.”

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