Las Vegas — Education on its own will not be enough to lift plastic recycling rates higher in the United States, one sustainability official believes.
"We need to inspire consumers," said Valeria Orozco, sustainability director at Nestlé Waters North America. "We need to make them feel part of the journey."
Nestlé Waters North America is looking to do just that as the bottled water giant has some ambitious recycled-content packaging goals for the years ahead, including some in the not-to-distant future.
The Stamford, Conn.-based company wants to use 25 percent recycled content in its water bottles by 2021 and then push that number to 50 percent by 2025.
Part of the game plan is to use the company's brands to promote sustainability "to connect consumer use with recycling," she said.
But even making that connection won't be enough to fundamentally change how this country handles its used plastics, Orozco said during a presentation at The Packaging Conference in Las Vegas.
There needs to be packaging design changes to help recyclers, improvements in the recycling infrastructure and an increased demand for recycled resin end markets, Orozco said. Companies also need to "reimagine" the bottle to find ways to improve recycling rates.
Promoting an integrated story involving brand equity tied in with a recycling message will help move the needle, she said.
"Many times, I hear about educating the consumers. I don't think that's the right tone. We need to inspire consumers. We need to make them feel part of the journey. That's what we're trying to change in terms of our shift within Nestlé Waters," Orozco said.
Companies should not take a "top-down" or "paternalistic" approach when engaging customers about sustainability, but instead invite them to "come along with us, come look at what we can do," she said.
A good example of partnering with customers in this approach is the use of the How2Recycle label developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
"It's really about making sure everyone understands what to do when they are finished with the bottle and how they can properly recycle it," Orozco said.
"Another piece of this is when we are putting our sustainability story together, how do we marry our brands that have the most brand equity with our sustainability story? Because not all consumers care about sustainability. But if we can use, for example, the power of Poland Spring, which is one of our most iconic brands, tell them at the same time the sustainability story," she said.
This approach, Orozco said, allows the company's marketing department to get involved in promoting the message.
"Our thought is we can make sustainability real for the consumers and touch them in terms of brand equity," Orozco said.
Regardless of how a company presents its sustainability message to consumers, there has to be a solid supporting business case, she said.
"I think if we don't make a business case for sustainability, there's nothing to be done within a business context," she said.
Along with interim recycled-content goals, she told the conference crowd Nestlé Waters North America also is aiming to have 100 percent of its PET packaging made with recycled or renewable materials by 2030.
Along with Poland Spring, the company's bottled water portfolio includes brands such as Arrowhead, Ozarka, Ice Mountain and Zephyrhills.