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Circular packaging—the shift to sustainable beer packaging


Circular packaging—the shift to sustainable beer packaging

Plastic waste has a very damaging impact on our ecology. One of the worst instances of plastic pollution is the accumulation taking place in the oceans. The problem of marine pollution had been brought to the fore by many experts, but it got substantial public attention with the discovery of the garbage patch floating in the Pacific Ocean. Dubbed as the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch', it is an area in the ocean with an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France, or closer home, approximately half the size of India. Accumulations of plastic debris in the marine ecosystem pose a severe threat to marine biodiversity. The World Economic Forum report, The New Plastics Economy, says that at least 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Unless urgent, collective action is taken, by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the sea.

According to the WWF, about 100,000 marine creatures die every year after becoming entangled in ocean plastic waste. Recently, a sea turtle hatchling that washed ashore on a Florida beach and died later was found to have more than 100 tiny plastic pieces in its intestinal tract. Sadly, the plastic hoops that bind drinks packs are sometimes to blame for these deaths.

Thus, reducing plastic waste is not merely a moral duty but also a necessity to combat the climate emergency. And it's not a role only limited to global agencies and governments, but also individuals and the private sector. The UN Sustainable Development Goal (#12) about "responsible consumption and production" highlights the private sector's role in this regard.

Circularity or, more precisely, circular packaging is one of the ways to address the challenge of plastic pollution in our environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes the circular economy as a system “based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.” Circular packaging incorporates the same principles of reuse, reduce and recycle.

With circular packaging, it is not merely a question of the environment alone; it is also a question of economics. With the ever-rising awareness about plastic waste, there is rising awareness among the consumers also regarding plastic pollution. Surveys have often pointed out how consumers are likely to have a positive notion about and resonate with a brand that takes proactive measures to reduce waste, especially plastic. Not surprisingly, companies across the board are taking notice of this trend, even beer companies.

Traditionally speaking, beer is not as much of an issue when it comes to plastic pollution. Primary packaging consists of glass and aluminium cans, which are highly recyclable and reusable. The immediate problem lies in the multi-pack plastic rings. These rings that hold the cans together have often been viewed as an avoidable appendage that causes innumerable deaths of marine animals.

Driven by these objectives, the world's leading brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), has seriously cut down on plastic waste. The company has already announced its goal of ensuring 100 percent of its product packaging is returnable or made from majority recycled content by 2025. To bring this to fruition, it has already started making strides towards a circular future using innovative solutions. AB InBev India has partnered with various sustainability start-ups to identify innovative alternative solutions to increase recycled content and reduce plastic packaging in its value chain. One such pilot has been done with Eco Packers for replacing plastic keg caps with Eco resin caps that are made from bio-based material and are 100 percent compostable. Another pilot is focused on utilizing barley waste from farms to make six pack beer cartons.

In the UK, AB InBev has announced that beer cans of Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois, and Beck's will now be packaged with alternatives like fully recyclable wraps and the KeelClip™, a disruptive new technology that uses recyclable paperboard to create a lighter weight pack doing away with the plastic ring entirely.

It is not the first time that AB InBev is venturing into plastic-free packaging. Back in 2018, Corona became the first global beer brand to trial 100 percent plastic-free six-pack rings in Mexico. This solution was crafted in conjunction with ocean charity Parley for Oceans and made from plant-based biodegradable fibres, with a mix of by-product waste and compostable materials.

AB InBev is also working with numerous partners and industry bodies to push the agenda on plastic reduction. In 2018, it signed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's E100 network. It pledged to support the shift to a circular economy by ensuring that 100% of its products will be in packaging that is returnable or made from majority recycled content.

Companies like AB InBev prove that there are always solutions available to any crisis, if a concerted effort is made. While the world reels under the negative impacts of plastic pollution, companies can make a positive contribution by incorporating circular packaging that is both reusable and recyclable. The problem is enormous, but we can make a start, one multi-pack plastic ring at a time.