Is the EU’s proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation missing a critical element? In this article, Archana Jagannathan, chief sustainability officer at PepsiCo Europe, argues that the regulation does not go far enough due to its omission of refill at-home bottling solutions and refillable bottles.
The European Union has a proud record of adopting pioneering environmental policies. Taking early action to cut emissions, promote sustainable practices, and reduce waste is at the heart of the EU’s Green Deal. In this vein, last November the European Commission unveiled its proposal to reduce packaging waste. The draft Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) covers a huge range: from water bottles to milk cartons and from hotel shampoos to beer cans. All packaging products would have to be recyclable or reusable.
Few would disagree with the aims of the proposal: as the world grapples with the challenges of increasing packaging waste, we all need to act.
But Europe’s proposed definition of reuse omits refill at-home bottling solutions, the proposal is missing a crucial opportunity to make a real difference when it comes to cutting Europe’s packaging waste.
Put simply, refill-at-home systems allow consumers to make their own drinks, like fizzy beverages, using refillable bottles.
But it’s not just an innovative answer for people seeking the convenience of making their drinks at home. It can also be a solution to some of the packaging challenges we face today. By encouraging refill at home, the EU can significantly reduce plastic waste, conserve resources, and drive the transition towards a circular economy.
The refill-at-home system is amazingly simple. Applications like the SodaStream Sparkling Water Maker are really just a home carbonation system that includes a machine, a carbon dioxide cylinder and a plastic bottle designed to be reused for up to three years. To create a fizzy drink, users put the CO2 cartridge into the back of the machine, place a bottle filled with water into the front, and push down on a block to create the carbonation.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has already recognised the value of the refill-at-home model: its research has found that buying a refill rather than a new product can significantly reduce CO2, save energy, and conserve water.
However, under the current PPWR proposal, the refill-at-home system is not considered reuse. It just doesn’t make sense.
While all reuse models support a reduction in emissions and packaging waste, the refill-at-home model uses less resources and energy than the “traditional” reuse model or what we affectionately call the ‘milkman model’ of reuse.
The milkman delivers your milk bottles, picks up your empties and takes them to a bottling facility where they’re washed, refilled, recapped, relabelled, and sent back out again to start the cycle.
That is what happens when you buy a bottle in a store. You drink the beverage and then return it to the store. There, a logistics partner will take it to the same bottle facility where the same washing, refilling, recapping and relabelling takes place before being sent back out to supermarkets.
Now, that’s a perfectly valid loop, but can also be a long loop. Refilling at home, on the other hand, can be a much shorter, faster and simpler way to reuse what you already have.
More than 12 million people across Europe have already embraced the refill-at-home model. One refillable bottle lasts for up to three years, and one reusable canister of CO2 provides 60 litres of carbonated beverages – all without leaving home.
If the EU is truly committed to a circular economy, where resources are used and reused efficiently, then it should back all types of reuse solutions, including refillable bottles. Embracing refill-at-home solutions would conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions, and minimise the strain on natural resources, contributing to a greener and more sustainable future. This solution empowers consumers to make sustainable choices in their daily lives. They can take pride in their contribution to environmental preservation and be part of a broader movement to protect our planet.
Our companies should also look at the entire lifecycle impact of alternative delivery models. We cannot trade off cutting packaging waste with increased greenhouse gas emissions or water use. So if the new EU regulatory reuse targets do not include refill, they should be set at realistic and environmentally sound levels.
We all recognize that change is needed if we are to combat the packaging waste crisis. By promoting all types of alternative solutions including refillable bottles, the EU can help reduce plastic waste, advance the circular economy, conserve resources, empower consumers, and stimulate economic growth.
First published by Packaging Europe 18 September 2023. Reproduced by permission.