Opinion from global food and drink experts, Zenith Global

Some good news from RECOUP’s latest report on UK plastic recycling. Rates have trebled in three years. But this does not quite merit three cheers.

The plastic bottle recycling rate reached 39% in 2008, compared with 13% in 2005, 20% in 2006 and 35% in 2007. That represents 4,753 million plastic bottles being recovered, an increase of 752 million or 19% on 2007.

The European average for PET in 2007, however, was 43%, so we should be doing better. Moreover, it seems that 7.2 million out of 25.3 million UK households still do not have kerbside collection schemes. Yes, 154 out of 475 local authorities have no provision and are therefore failing us as well as our environment.

Two cheers, then, for the two thirds that do.

If you were to start your own business, you might think that discarded ringpulls from soft drinks cans would be a hazardous raw material.

Yet a charity called Bottletop in Brazil is now exporting handbags made of ringpulls to the United Kingdom. Apparently it takes 1,000 ringpulls to make a bag and requires about a day’s work.

They retail for upwards of £30 and have been bought by celebrities such as Annie Lennox and Natalie Imbruglia. The ringpulls themselves are collected by the homeless who can earn £3 per kilogram.

If you’d like to know more, check The Sunday Times on 6th September or go to timesonline.co.uk/environment

By coincidence, Coca-Cola has been inspired by a similar idea and will be giving away bags made from recycled PET bottles as part of a limited edition UK promotion in October.

The blurb says they will be covered in pink and white phrases printed on a black background, folding up into a leopard skin pattern pouch.

Call me old fashioned, but … full details are available at presscentre.coca-cola.co.uk


August 28th, 2009 | Posted by Richard Hall in Environmental - (0 Comments)

Tesco has now put a carbon footprint on its milk. Wal-Mart wants to develop an environmental rating system for product labels. The UK Government is reported to be thinking of a scheme which might cover animal welfare, use of chemicals, packaging and food miles.

Carbon may well be a good starting point, but there are already many different ways of measuring and communicating this. Eventually, I believe eco-labelling will follow the same route as nutrition labelling. Both will need to cover a range of standard elements, which will be constantly debated and reviewed. Consistency and comparability will be vital.

I think the best scheme so far is one we devised at Zenith nearly two years ago under our proposed Carbon Action Plan. It was never implemented, because it was ahead of its time and expensive to pioneer. But here it is again.

Eco Labelling

Do ask if you would like to know more.

Following in the footsteps of UK figures for soft drinks from Coca-Cola (bevblog, 1 April 2009), we now have new insights on milk from New Zealand’s Fonterra.

One litre of Fonterra milk is reported to have a carbon footprint of 940 grams. 85% is generated on the farm, 10% in processing and manufacturing, then the final 5% in distribution. 59% is methane, 24% nitrous oxide and 17% carbon dioxide.

Apparently UK produced milk has 34% higher emissions because British farmers rely more heavily on concentrated feed.

One day we’ll be comparing carbon footprints on pack like calories.


May 26th, 2009 | Posted by Richard Hall in Economic | Environmental - (0 Comments)

When Nestlé‘s Chairman speaks out, I try to listen and tend to agree. Recently, Peter Brabeck talked to the Financial Times and many of his remarks bear repeating.

Food prices – “Food prices will continue to increase because the demand, even during this crisis, will be in 2009 about 3 per cent to 4 per cent higher than last year.”

Biofuels – “It is absolutely unacceptable that we are using food for biofuels. We need 9,100 litres of water to produce one litre of pure diesel. This is not sustainable.”

Water scarcity – If we continue to treat water as “a commodity without any price … the world will run out of water long before we [run out] of oil.”

“93 per cent of all water consumption is in agriculture and, as water has no price, there is no economic incentive to improve the productivity.”

“60 per cent of fresh water … we are losing due to insufficient infrastructure.”

Recession – “If you look at state deficits being created just now, there is no short way out of this crisis.”

Inflation – “All macroeconomic decisions which are being taken will lead us to inflation.”

Coca-Cola/Huiyuan – “I’m not so sure Europe would have allowed this acquisition.”

It’s no wonder that UK recycling rates are not higher, when existing schemes are so lacking in common objectives or standards. Yet there are some really encouraging signs of progress.

At Zenith’s UK Soft Drinks Industry Conference last week, one of the speakers was Chris Dow, who came over from Australia after the Sydney Olympics to become Managing Director of Closed Loop Recycling, which has now opened the world’s first recycling operation that converts both PET and HDPE bottles into granules for reuse in new bottles. Then we visited the plant itself. I was greatly impressed. What did I learn ?

First, some remarkable statistics. In 2004 the UK recycled less than 40,000 tonnes of plastic bottles. In 2007 the amount had quadrupled to 182,000 tonnes. Figures are not finalised for 2008, but the expectation is around 230,000 tonnes. In 2007 the country’s total plastic bottle use was 550,000 tonnes (300 PET, 220 HDPE and 30 other), meaning we recycled 34%. Today the proportion could be above 40%.

Second, I discovered quite a bit about why we’re not doing better. And this is serious, because we could so easily achieve much more.

  • There are more than 150 different local authority schemes for waste collection in the UK today.
  • One in four Councils do not provide kerbside collection for plastic.
  • Most schemes require a high level of commitment from the public.

For instance, my local authority is only just about to change from three separate rubbish collection days and won’t take cartons.

Third, I heard about the art of co-mingling. At present, most households have to separate different types of material themselves – requiring thought, storage space and effort. As a result, many people don’t bother. Whereas, if collections took all forms of dry waste, then more of us would take the trouble. So co-mingling of different materials would ensure higher rates of collection, as more of the effort would be absorbed by the local authorities and waste management companies.

Fourth, I was fascinated how HDPE caps and PET bottles are separated. It’s done simply by using water. Caps made of HDPE float. PET sinks. Magic.

Fifth, apparently even a tiny amount of bioplastics can make a whole batch of recycled PET unfit for blow moulding back into new PET bottles.

Sixth, it seems that bottles containing up to 50% recycled PET can be recycled again and again, while 100% recycled PET has a more limited life.

Seventh, I was rather concerned about how much energy recycling uses. If you add up the rinsing out at home, the transport and separation, the recycling heat and energy, the residual waste, plus all the buildings, equipment, staff and their travel to work, it’s a very substantial cost. Then, it does mean earth’s limited natural resources are being used more than once and that has to be wiser than not.

Eighth and this may happen one day in Britain, in Mexico they are already sifting through landfill sites to reclaim plastic bottles and other materials for recycling.

Finally, I understand that, although it is behind much of the continent, the UK catching up fast and a lot more recycling capacity will become available in the next few years. Closed Loop Recycling can handle 35,000 tonnes at its first site and is already planning a second to handle over 50,000 tonnes.

Do come to one of our future conferences. You may learn a lot. I always do.

In response to my blog of 27th March, I was asked where the lightweighting benchmarks are being achieved. With thanks again to Sipa, I have added an extra column showing the countries leading the way.

  Country Size inlitres Gramsof PET Gramsper litre
For bottled water USA 0.3 7.9 26.3
  USA, Italy 0.5 9.9 19.8
  USA 0.6 12.0 20.0
  Italy 1.5 25.5 17.0
  Italy 2.0 33.0 16.5
  Mexico 10.0 115.0 11.5
For carbonated soft drinks, Mexico 0.4 17.0 42.5
based on Coca-Cola Mexico 0.6 20.5 34.2
  Mexico 1.0 33.5 33.5
  Mexico 1.5 42.5 28.3
  Mexico 2.0 46.5 23.2
  Mexico 2.5 52.5 21.0
  Mexico 3.0 54.5 18.2
For hot fill still drinks Indonesia 0.35 20.0 57.1
  China 0.5 22.0 44.0

If you would like to know more, I recommend you go to Nicola.Morellato@zoppas.com


April 3rd, 2009 | Posted by Richard Hall in Environmental - (0 Comments)

It’s extraordinary how much water is used to make products that seem to have so little water in them.  I wrote about this last September.  We’re in the territory of embedded water or virtual water.  It includes all water use from irrigating the raw materials to managing the waste.

Here is a revealing set of comparisons from the University of Twente/Unesco:

Embedded /virtual water
Sheet of paper
Cup of tea
Cup of coffee
Bottle of beer
Loaf of bread
Fillet of chicken
1kg bag of sugar
500g of cheese
1kg of rice
Beef steak
Pair of jeans

In a water constrained world, this certainly helps put the consequences of our consumer choices into a clearer perspective.  It should also help us make more sensible use of our most precious natural resource.