Austin, Texas — Plastics are facing broad societal pressures to find their place in the world for today and tomorrow.
And with those pressures comes change as those within the plastics industry, the packaging industry, the recycling industry, consumers and regulators all try to navigate.
Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. sees — and is participating in — that change, said Charlie Schwarze, director of sustainability at the beverage company.
"It is moving quickly in this space. Technology is moving in leaps and bounds in the recycling community. Things are changing on almost a daily basis in terms of what recyclers accept and what states are telling recyclers what they should accept or can accept in certain places," Schwarze said at the recent Packaging Conference in Austin.
Keurig Dr Pepper already has converted two brands — Core and Snapple — into using 100 percent recycled PET bottles and is looking to do more as the company approaches its 2025 sustainability goals.
He called for conference attendees to bring their ideas and opportunities to not just Keurig Dr Pepper, but other brand owners as well.
"What I ask of you as you are coming to brands like us, or coming to converters who supply brands like us, bring sustainable solutions to us. We know that recycled PET is out there. We want our suppliers — whether it's a label, a cap, a bottle supplier, whether it's a secondary packaging supplier, a pallet, a beverage crate — to come with knowledge," he said.
And that knowledge should be based on what can work in current recycling systems and guidelines, like those created by the Association of Plastic Recyclers, a trade group focused on the technical aspects of reusing plastics.
A mismatched label and bottle combination, for example, can render a container useless for recycling at the end of its life, he said. Suppliers to brands and converters, Schwarze said, need to have an in-house employee who works on recycling and compatibility and make sure they are tuned in to the latest developments.
Keurig Dr Pepper, with 125 brands, makes plenty of products packaged in plastics, but the company is material agnostic, the sustainability director said.
Part of Schwarze's job is to travel around the country visiting different material recovery facilities where plastics, paper, metal and glass are separated and baled to be further processed.
He said there are opportunities within these MRFs to further refine sortation technology to ensure that more of the recyclables end up being captured for reuse. But he also said these 400 locations around the country do not have a uniform way of doing what they do. And that's a challenge.
"I'm in a lot of recycling facilities, and I see our product coming down the line — sometimes in the right places, sometimes in the wrong places. It frustrates me when I see a Dr Pepper bottle not going in with the clear PET at a recycling facility," he said. "And it should frustrate you, too, because we're all trying to get more recycled content into our materials."
Keurig Dr Pepper has a goal of having 25 percent post-consumer recycled resin in the company's packaging by 2025, and converting both the Core water brand and the Snapple line of products into 100 percent PCR containers has given the company a "jump-start," Schwarze said.
As Keurig Dr Pepper nears its 2025 goals, the company is looking for engaged consumers to help boost recycling rates. Consumers, he said, indicate they are willing to recycle when they take part in consumer testing. But those intentions do not always, or even often, end up in action.
"Intended behavior vs. revealed behavior — that's how we get to a 29 percent recovery rate for PET and even lower for other [plastics]. We know we need to do more, and we know we need to really invest in this space," he said.
"There are opportunities, and we know there are ways to engage with the customer to be able to make them want to recycle more," Schwarze said. "It's a journey.
"I think supply is going to be both a challenge and an opportunity as brands converters and down supply chain look at more innovative ways to get more post-consumer recycled content," he said.