Food industry giants Danone, Nestlé and Kroger are the latest companies to harness design and circular principles to move the food and beverage industry towards zero waste.
Danone and Nestlé Waters, two of the world’s largest bottled water companies, have partnered with California-based startup Origin Materials to form the NaturALL Bottle Alliance. Together, they aim to develop and launch at commercial scale a PET plastic bottle made entirely from bio-based materials.
The project uses biomass feedstocks, such as previously used cardboard and sawdust, so as to avoid diverting resources or land from food production for human or animal consumption. The technology represents a scientific breakthrough for the sector and the Alliance aims to make it available to the entire food and beverage industry.
“Our goal is to establish a circular economy for packaging by sourcing sustainable materials and creating a second life for all plastics,” said Frederic Jouin, head of R&D for plastic materials at Danone. “We believe it’s possible to replace traditional fossil materials with bio-based packaging materials. By teaming up and bringing together our complementary expertise and resources, the Alliance can move faster in developing 100 percent renewable and recyclable PET plastic at commercial scale.”
Danone and Nestlé Waters are providing expertise and teams, as well as financial support, to help Origin Materials make this technology available to the entire food and beverage industry in record time.
This next-generation PET will be as light in weight, transparent, recyclable and protective of the product as today’s PET, while being better for the planet. The exclusive use of renewable feedstocks is the Alliance’s main focus area. The R&D will focus initially on cardboard, sawdust and wood chips, but other biomass materials, such as rice hulls, straw and agricultural residue could be explored.
“Current technology in the market makes it possible to have 30 percent bio-PET,” said John Bissell, CEO of Origin Materials. “Our breakthrough technology aims to reach 100 percent bio-based bottles at commercial scale. With the help of our Alliance partners, Origin Materials will be able to scale up a technology which has already been proven at the pilot level.”
The NaturALL Bottle Alliance believes everyone should benefit from this new material and plan to make it accessible for the entire beverage industry. This unique approach demonstrates the partners’ commitments to open innovation and sustainable business.
Origin Materials has already produced samples of 80 percent bio-based PET in its pilot plant in Sacramento, California. Construction of a “pioneer plant” will begin in 2017, with production of the first samples of 60 percent bio-based PET to start in 2018. The initial volume goal for this first step is to bring 5,000 metric tons of bio-based PET to the market. Thanks to their complementary skills and shared vision, the NaturALL Bottle Alliance aims to develop the process for producing at least 75 percent bio-based PET plastic bottles at commercial scale as early as 2020, scaling up to 95 percent in 2022. The partners will continue to conduct research to increase the level of bio-based content, with the objective of reaching 100 percent.
Meanwhile, Kroger is rolling out a new lightweight gallon milk jug at its Westover Dairy in Lynchburg, Virginia designed to reduce plastic consumption and help Kroger achieve its sustainability goals, which include its facilities moving towards zero waste.
The Westover Dairy has manufactured has already manufactured 6.2 million jugs since September for milk, water, juice and tea products and is distributing them to 92 Kroger stores throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and North and South Carolina. Westover is the only Kroger plant in the nation making the jugs.
“The new milk jugs are a significant contribution to Kroger achieving its goal of reducing packaging for products and reducing waste,” said Eric Smarko, manager of the Westover Dairy plant. “The milk jug is still made of the same 100 percent recyclable high-density polyethylene as the old jugs, but the unique design allows us to use about 10 percent less plastic while retaining the same performance that we did from the old jugs.”
Since the introduction of the new jug, which now weighs 56 grams as opposed to 62 grams, Kroger has removed 81,500 pounds of plastic out of the waste stream. The company expects to save more than five million pounds of plastic per year once use of the jug is fully implemented across the country.
The jug was designed by MidAmerican Machining and Kroger engineers developed several unique enhancements, including a bigger handle, fill-level marks and a thumb pad for better handling. So far, customer feedback has been positive. According to Smarko, consumers have been virtually unanimous in their approval of the jug.
The new packaging has required Kroger to modify equipment in its plant, but Smarko has indicated that the costs will be netted out by production savings over time. The jugs are contributing to Kroger meeting its sustainability goals for 2020. They include optimizing 100 percent of corporate brand packaging by reducing waste.
“We are constantly looking for new ways to improve our business practices,” said Smarko. “Whether it is diverting waste from landfills, reducing our packaging, recycling plastic bags or donating safe, perishable foods to food banks, Kroger is increasing recycling rates and finding cost-effective and responsible alternatives for our waste.”
Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and Sustainability from Dalhousie University and a MSc in Sustainable Urbanism from the University College of London Bartlett School of Planning. Libby is interested in food systems, circular economies, social innovation and eco cities.
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