We interviewed the Director of Packaging at Nestle to understand the problems they face in addressing the circular economy and the hurdles that they need to overcome to be able to be truly circular.
The conversation went through the ins and outs of the process that Nestle go through from the factory to the consumer.
We began the interview by discussing the environmental impact that Nestle consider in their process.As Nestle do not communicate their Life Cycle Assessment of their packaging outside of the company, it makes it difficult to know the true impact that an innovation in packaging might have for the corporation. This makes it difficult to know the true impact that an innovation in packaging might have for the corporation.
Nestle made it clear that when they’re looking at their packaging they have to look at all aspects of their environmental impact, from CO2, transport and water use and everything in between. However, being a larger international company, they have to compromise between different economies of scale and environments. For example, it was pointed out that there’s less of a water problem than in Nigeria and environmental factors like that can influence the decisions that need to get made.
In a similar vein, there’s a contradiction between the circular economy and the assessment of environmental impact. For example, in Switzerland there are no proper chains to recycle plastics. However, it doesn’t make sense to create a chain to send plastics to Germany, for example, since they send plastics to incinerators, where the energy produced is then used for heating purposes. As such, it makes it difficult to effect change on a large scale because of the different considerations and impact that needs to be assessed. It’s something that brings in a holistic view of the circular economy, rather than isolated incidents purely focussed on consumers.
Nestle’s dedication to best practices has focused on replacing as many materials as possible with renewable or recyclable resources. This isn’t always feasible due to health and safety regulations, for example meat cannot be packed in biodegradable plastics and therefore limits what can be used. Nestle also look at the whole supply chain of the material, not just the benefits after production. Even if the biodegradability of the material is at first glance better, they often require a lot of energy at the production stage, therefore not leading to a more positive environmental impact. Moreover, if there is no recycling chain, the materials go back into nature and might also take longer to be degraded since they won’t be in optimal conditions.
Another contradiction is that Nestle sometimes need to have heavier packaging to ensure food safety and avoid food loss during transport. The focus for Nestle is on consumer satisfaction above almost anything else. They need to ensure that the food or product being consumed is safe and to a high quality and that is the main driving force behind their decisions, even if they need to be trying to decrease their environmental impact.
Another important aspect is Food Waste. Here they also prefer packaging that have little waste. In their Life Cycle Assessment, food waste has a high impact, so Nestle would prefer a packaging that would limit the loss of added value in the supply chain across their whole process.
All in all, Nestlé has now incorporated over 50% of recycled material and has a majority of its resources coming from renewable resources.