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PepsiCo closing in on recyclability goals for North American beverage packaging

PepsiCo has a stated goal that by 2025, 100% of its global packaging will be recyclable. The North American beverage side of the business is about 95% recyclable right now, according to Kathleen Niesen, Director of Recycling and Sustainability at PepsiCo North American Beverages and Quaker.

By Kim Overstreet, Content Strategist, Alignment, PMMI Media (Sustainability In Packaging US 2019 Media Partner) 

Niesen, who will be presenting “CPG Initiatives and Perspective” and “Recycling and Consumer Engagement (with Keefe Harrison, Executive Director of the Recycling Partnership) at the Smithers Pira Sustainability in Packaging US conference in March, said that PepsiCo’s North American beverage operations takes a broad approach to sustainability.

“Since beverages constitute such an interesting and challenging part of the packaging portfolio, especially here in the US and North America, we tend to get the most visibility these days. I do my best to make sure that the global goals and the global “Performance with Purpose” objectives are made as real as possible here in the US for PepsiCo. It doesn’t escape me that my job is all day every day to speak to, and hopefully impress favorably, 327 million Americans,” said Niesen.

Niesen has two sustainability roles in North America –packaging and recycling beverages, and sustainable water and water replenishment, focused on replenishing water to high-stress watersheds that are used in the US.

For PepsiCo, material selection is heavily swayed by recyclability. Niesen said, “The capabilities and constraints, and the limitations and innovations that are available and happening all the time in the collection and sortation and processing industry very much inform PepsiCo in terms of making our packaging 100% recyclable.”

According to Niesen, the materials gap in the recyclability goal achievement has to do with “various labels that fool the machinery in a sortation environment, or adhesives, or various small elements of the packaging that we are working to get to that 100% recyclable level. And we do work with the recycling and reprocessing industry to make sure that as we go after that last 10%, that it is consistent with their systems.” (Note: PepsiCo beverages worldwide is currently at 90% recyclability.)

Niesen said that besides materials, there are two other factors at play in successful sustainability: the infrastructure and availability element for circular economy issues such as collection, sortation and reprocessing of plastic, glass and aluminum; and, ‘post-consumer behavior’ – “once the consumer has finished the product, what can they, and what do they want to do with the package that is now empty and in their hand?

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