The main thrust of Pepsico’s reusable packaging initiative is through Sodastream, expanding reusable cups usage for fountain drinks, maintaining existing refillable bottle programs in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Germany, and the Philippines as well as products sold in powder or tablet form.
PepsiCo announced in December that it intends to double the percentage of all beverage servings it sells delivered through reusable models from 10 to 20 percent by 2030, fulfilling a commitment it made in March 2022.
That pledge was made in response to a shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow, asking the company to report on actions it could take to rapidly reduce dependence on single-use plastic packaging, with a suggested focus on setting stronger goals for the use of refillable bottles. At the time, Pepsico said it would deliver a “time-bound goal” commitment before the end of 2022.
“We appreciate the actions PepsiCo has already taken to reduce its use of virgin plastic and are pleased it is willing to review its operations and search for additional opportunities to reduce reliance on single-use plastic packaging,” Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, stated at the time. “We hope the company will take a close look at its ability to increase the use of refillable plastic and glass bottles in key markets.”
Previous analysis by the environmental group Oceana indicated the considerable potential to reduce ocean plastic by increasing the refill market share. It concluded that boosting the share of refillable bottles by 10% in all coastal countries in place of single-use PET bottles could reduce plastic bottle marine pollution by 22%.
PepsiCo will pursue four approaches to limit single-use bottles
PepsiCo says that it will pursue four approaches to achieve its new packaging goal, including expanding its SodaStream business, both at home and in workplaces through SodaStream Professional; building out its refillable plastic (PET) and glass bottle offerings in partnership with PepsiCo bottlers; growing its fountain drinks business with reusable cups; and accelerating growth in powders and concentrates.
PepsiCo has more than 80 markets around the world offering reusable packaging solutions, including:
- The widespread international availability of SodaStream and SodaStream Professional, and its continued growth, enables consumers to reinvent how they consume some of the world’s most loved beverage brands and personalize their choices in reusable containers, potentially eliminating the need for more than 200 billion plastic bottles by 2030.
- Refillable and returnable glass and plastic programs in major markets including Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Germany and the Philippines.
- Many of our brands, including Gatorade, Propel, Muscle Milk and Evolve, are offered as concentrated powders or tablets to allow consumers to customize the drink to their preferences in their own containers.
“Fundamentally transforming the traditional beverage consumption model will require making reusable and refillable options accessible and convenient, at scale, for consumers – and that’s what PepsiCo aims to do,” said Jim Andrew, Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo. “PepsiCo will accelerate our investment in disruptive innovation and advocate for policies that allow us to scale up reusable packaging options, platforms, and programs so that we can offer consumers a wide variety of alternative ways to enjoy their favorite beverages while moving away from reliance on single-use packaging.”
The news was met positively by the Ellen McArthur Foundation. “We know we cannot recycle our way out of this plastic pollution crisis,” said Sander Defruyt, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastic Initiative Lead. “By avoiding single-use packaging waste in the first place, reuse business models are an important part of creating a circular economy. Our latest Global Commitment report illustrated the lack of progress on reuse across the industry and highlighted a lack of ambition when it comes to reuse strategies. We welcome this significant step forward by PepsiCo and we hope other global brands will follow suit and similarly set quantitative reuse targets helping to reduce their use of virgin plastics in packaging.”
Will Pepsi’s goal help reduce ocean plastic?
“Having Pepsi increase its use of reusable and refillable packaging would be good news for the oceans,” commented Matt Littlejohn, Senior Vice President of Oceana, in a statement. “Increasing the share of refillable bottles sold means less plastic pollution. However, the company’s pledge currently lacks the specifics needed to be certain that it will result in the increased sale of refillable bottles and the reduction of single-use plastic.
Littlejohn urged PepsiCo to detail its planned increase for reusable packaging for each business, particularly in countries where the company and its bottlers already sell refillable bottles. He said the company also needs to quantify how the sale of additional SodaStream machines, powders, and concentrates reduces the company’s existing single-use plastic footprint. If the additional powders and concentrates sold are packaged in plastic sachets or other types of plastic that are difficult to recycle, it could mean replacing one plastic pollution problem with another.
“Unfortunately, there is reason to be skeptical. PepsiCo is — according to its own data — increasing its use of plastic and is not on track to meet its plastic reduction promises,” he cautioned. According to the “Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report” released in November 2022 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in 2021, PepsiCo used 5.5 billion pounds of plastic packaging. This was 331 million pounds more plastic packaging than the company used the previous year. PepsiCo also used 5% more virgin plastic packaging in 2021 compared to 2020, despite its goal to reduce virgin plastic per serving by 50% by 2030. Additionally, the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit recently listed PepsiCo as the second leading corporate polluter “fueling the plastic crisis.”