How can water packaging live up to the increasing demand for sustainability from consumers?
Richard Hall, Chairman of Zenith Global, talks to Ramon Arratia, Global Public Affairs Director, Ball Beverage Packaging, a leading can manufacturer and Chairman of Every Can Counts, an association looking to promote aluminium can recycling.
Richard Hall (RH): The water market is changing in all kinds of ways from packaging to the contents and beyond. Tell us about your role in the sector.
Ramon Arratia (RA): My Public Affairs role involves trying to understand the global trends for packaging across consumers, NGOs, civic society, especially regulators. We have teams in South America, North America and Europe working to increase the recycling rate of cans, which is what consumers really care about, via the regulators and other channels.
RH: What does civil society think about water drinks and packaging, and how can they be made more sustainable?
RA: We’re seeing that the trend for hydration keeps growing. People are seeking more healthy lifestyles and there are new categories such as flavoured and enhanced waters but the biggest debate is around the packaging.
Cans, which weren’t used to package on-the-go water a few years ago, are starting to emerge. We have more and more enquiries from customers with really exciting projects being delivered. We believe that cans will become a major force in the water market.
RH: Why would consumers feel that aluminium cans could live up to their sustainability promise?
RA: We’ve conducted consumer surveys. This summer, working with an agency Metaforce, we polled around 2,500 consumers in the US, Brazil, UK and Argentina. It highlighted the fact that for consumers, packaging is the key sustainability issue. And in the beer category, the recyclability of the package is the most significant factor for purchase after taste. People are really ready to try new formats for better recyclability.
RH: Do all formats have the same potential for consumers and recyclability?
RA: Cans are the most recycled package globally at 69%, with the other packaging types not coming close but most consumers are not yet aware of this. Intuitively they might expect metal to be more easily recycled than other formats but most people still do not make that connection.
RH: How can we increase recycling rates to meet consumer demand?
RA: We need to set the bar high. The EU has set a target of 90% for the collection of plastic bottles which will drive legislation and new effective infrastructure. This needs to be reinforced with increased extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, effective kerbside and on-the-go collection and deposit return schemes. But this is only part of the problem because it’s about what happens to the materials once collected which are not necessarily designed to be recycled. People are beginning to ask the right questions. That’s where the can has the advantage and why we’re getting so many enquiries in new categories including water.
RH: Do we need all these systems to achieve maximum recycling potential? Does our industry need to accept both regulation and self-regulation as well as funding these systems?
RA: I think so. The bar has been set so high by the EU that Deposit Return Schemes, which are a form of EPR, are going to be necessary in most countries. Brands will have to offer their products in materials where the recycling costs of all elements in the package will have to be paid for by the brands themselves. I expect most countries by 2030 to be operating that kind of system. Kerbside collection for all material types will have to increase. I also see DRS becoming more sophisticated, beyond ‘return to retail’ with return points in many points, including high streets, music festivals and municipal spaces.
RH: How do we create a good regulatory scheme?
RA: There are many players involved and it’s essential that the producers themselves are involved in the devising of the regulations. We need a detailed and scientific debate which I see happening now.
RH: Is it about simply encouraging consumers or do we need to go further?
RA: It depends on the culture. In countries like Switzerland, a combination of available information and peer pressure is enough. But if you take my country, Spain, or the UK it is probably a different story. You need infrastructure close to consumers and to work out optimum tolerances. The other way we can engage is by incentivising via a returnable deposit. The key is to make the processes simple and convenient.
RH: What about infinite recycling and how critical is this for consumers?
RA: The debate is becoming more informed and nuanced. The public is beginning to ask questions like ‘how many more down-cycled products like park benches does society really need? Can we really absorb all the badly designed packaging in down-cycled products?’ We need to move away from high-value converted into low-value. People are not going to continue to accommodate huge losses and low yields. We need to keep materials in the loop.
RH: Can we achieve 100% recycling?
RA: We can get to 95 or 98% collection rates for all containers as Norway and Germany have demonstrated with their systems using DRS and so on. But not all materials perform the same. For cans there may be 4 or 5% losses per cycle but for other materials this rises quickly to 30 to 40% or more.
RH: Are there trends in other beverages which point to growth for water in cans?
RA: Cans are growing because people are worried about recyclability. The key advantage is that they can be recycled regardless of colour, shape or finish. COVID is encouraging more people to consume at home with many more products such as ready to drink coffee, wines. People haven’t drunk water in cans up to this point, mainly because of availability.
In the UK, we know from a recent YouGov survey, that only 8% of people have tried water in cans. But, and this is the key, 55% of people once they learn about the recyclability would choose a can of water over another package for on-the-go. Cheers!
RH: Thank you.
Ramon Arratia will be speaking at the 17th Global Water Drinks Congress, which will be held from October 20-22.