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Interview with the Director of Packaging at Nestle

We interviewed the Director of Packaging at Nestle to understand what they’re doing to address circular design.

Photo of Vimla Appadoo

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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.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

The interview with Nestle shows the importance of improving and optimising the quantity of packaging (single use sachets and bottle tops and tear offs). In optimising the quantity of packaging Nestle can make better use of space in delivery equipment and use materials and packing that make it easier to recycle, without compromising the product itself. Nestle are interested at being able to better package products to reduce the amount of packaging needed whilst making it easier for consumers and

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

How might we create packaging that does not compromise food safety?

How might we design packaging that addresses the need to better optimise space and the quantity of materials needed on a large scale?
 
How might we help multinational corporations take a holistic view of the circular economy?

Tell us about yourself

We are a scientist specialising in the application of material science (Sharvanee Mauree), a sustainability and climate change doctor (Dasaraden Mauree), an innovation accountant (Gareth Burton), a social entrepreneur (George Konstant) and two Service Designers (Mahnaz Yusaf and Vimla Appadoo).

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Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Vimla Appadoo !
There are 3 days left in the ideas phase of the circular design challenge! It would be great to see your ideas there, submit your idea via - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/circular-design/ideas/contribute

Photo of Jahrita Ungell

I found it great to have the perspective of the often designated "bad guy" i.e. the manufacturer. Thanks for sharing!

Photo of Sylvain Emeric

Really insightful! It's often hard to get to the manufacturer so thanks for this insight.

Photo of Vimla Appadoo

Thanks Sylvain, we were really lucky! It was a great conversation to have!

Photo of Christel Tardif

thanks Vimla Appadoo this is really insightful!

Photo of Vimla Appadoo

Thanks Christel, I'm glad you found it helpful.

Photo of Dennis

Hi Vimla,

this is a great insight. Thanks for sharing.

It is also the answer that I would expect from an industry incumbent that is too big and slow to innovate. The argumentation somehow reminds me on Clayton M. Christenson's The Innovator's Dilemma.

Some examples:
"Regulations differ vastly ... difficult to scale" --> I don't think anyone ever started with an initial packaging format that worked immediately everywhere in the world. That's where local startups might have the advantage of moving fast.

"Even if the biodegradability of the material is at first glance better, they often require a lot of energy at the production stage" --> What if the energy is made 100% of renewables?

"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." --> Since 60 years, plastic has gone back into nature and has not degraded at all. In terms of plastics, I would take "longer" over "not at all" any time.

"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." --> There was a time before plastics and biodegradable plastics. Of course, back then we didn't transport meat from South America to Europe or Australia and vice versa. At least not those amounts.

"The focus for Nestle is on consumer satisfaction above almost anything else." --> Above all, there are $$$. I think plastic is just the cheapest and most versatile material, at the moment.

"Nestle’s dedication to best practices has focused on replacing as many materials as possible with renewable or recyclable resources" --> If there is one thing I learnt during the research phase, that is, only because a material is called recyclable, it doesn't mean the material gets actually recycled.

Keep up the good work.
Cheers, Dennis

Photo of Vimla Appadoo

Hi Dennis,

I sincerely appreciate your feedback and insights on this! I think there are loads of comments you've made that will really help spark some conversations during our ideas phase (and certainly touch a lot on the conversations we've had as a team).

Thanks again, it's lovely to feel a part of such a great community!

Vimla

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Vimla!

Great post and it is really interesting to get the perspective of the Director of Packaging at Nestle, especially because the challenge is focused on solutions that are upstream of the packaging leaving the customer's hands.

I hope to see your team in the ideas phase which starts on Monday.

Photo of Vimla Appadoo

Thanks Kate, I'm glad you found it interesting!