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How Food and Drink can make Net Zero a success

SBF GB&I plans to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and hit net zero across its entire value chain by 2050 or sooner

Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability | Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

4 min read Partner content

The food and drink industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector so there's no doubt it has a vital role to play in delivering the UK’s 2050 Net Zero target

Indeed, it’s estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions from the UK’s food supply chain are equivalent to 2.2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. That places a unique responsibility upon all of us across the industry to think critically about our carbon emissions and creatively about how to reduce them.

This year, Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) announced our ambition to halve our greenhouse gas emissions from our direct operations and reduce by 30% across our entire value chain by 2030. This is part of our wider ambition for net zero across our entire value chain by 2050 or sooner.

The good news is that work is already well underway. Last year we invested £13m in a new energy and water-efficient bottling line at our factory based in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, which delivered a 4.4% reduction of energy and water consumption for our factory as a whole. We’ve switched to using 100% renewable sources of purchased electricity on site, have a continuous improvement cycle to replace old motors and pumps, installed new LED light fittings throughout the factory, and introduced robotic forklifts to name just a few changes. We still have a lot to do on site, with some major investments needed, but we’re confident we can get there - as a business we cut our carbon footprint by 25% between 2015 and 2021, so know we can achieve big things.

Of course, we need to look beyond just our own operations and at our supply chains too. We know packaging is an area where we can make positive changes.  As a society we haven’t valued plastic as a resource. But we are making changes for the better. That’s especially the case as the carbon footprint of plastic can be substantially lower than card, glass and metal. This is particularly true when using recycled material over virgin – it’s been calculated that using recycled plastic versus virgin plastic results in 79% lower CO2 emissions.

We led the soft drinks industry in creating the first ready-to-drink bottle from 100 per cent recycled plastic for Ribena in 2007. Last month we announced a further £6m investment to introduce recycled content into our other brands, Lucozade Sport and Lucozade Energy, over the next 8 months. By 2030 we intend that our bottles will only be made from plastic originating from post-consumer waste.

This ambition comes with challenges of its own - we desperately need a rapid increase in the domestic supply of food-grade quality recycled material. There has been significant under-investment in the UK’s collection and recycling infrastructure over the past 20 years, one of the reasons why we support the Government’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) reforms and the introduction of Deposit Return Scheme/s (DRS). These should help to deliver the circular economy we need for plastic, and in turn contribute to our shared net zero target.

That’s not to say the Government couldn’t be doing more with these reforms. Despite our calls otherwise, the Chancellor refuses to ring-fence the revenue raised from the Plastic Packaging Tax. The tax comes in force next April which will now be anywhere between 24 to 32 months before the necessary infrastructure changes and investment is delivered through EPR and DRS. This feels like a missed opportunity – we believe the revenue raised from the tax could be used to kick-start the reinvestment and ensure change can begin before EPR and DRS come online. This will help to deliver a circular economy faster, and in turn enable us to hit our shared net zero target sooner.

In the longer term we also need to solve a number of technical challenges. Due to degradation, there are currently limits on how many times plastic can be recycled under conventional (mechanical) recycling. We have been working with Carbios, a green biotech company and, together with fellow consortium members, we were recently able to reveal a world first - a food-grade PET bottle made entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic. The new ground-breaking enzymatic PET recycling technology breaks down plastic to its core elements, meaning it can be recycled endlessly. As any type of coloured, opaque or complex PET-based plastics can now be recycled into food grade quality material, we can close the loop on PET plastics once and for all.

Of course, enzymatic recycling is still a few years away from reaching scale, but it’s creative and innovative thinking like this that can help our industry support the Government make the UK’s net zero commitment a success. Combined with the progress we have seen from industry in recent years, we are excited to take the next steps towards a fully sustainable economy.

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Read the most recent article written by Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability - We need a whole-system approach to ensure a sustainable future for plastics that helps deliver net zero

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