Denver — Food and beverage giant PepsiCo Inc. "is making good progress" in designing flexible packaging that never becomes waste.
"We're thinking beyond the bag and beyond the bottle," Technical Director Sridevi Narayan-Sarathy said March 28 at the ANTEC 2023 conference in Denver. The event was hosted by the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Narayan-Sarathy added that Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo "is innovating packaging that will harmlessly and naturally disappear" and "wants to use the power of our brands to increase recycling awareness."
In addition to its namesake beverages, PepsiCo's brands include Lay's, Doritos, Cheetos, Aquafina, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Quaker and SodaStream. Narayan-Sarathy said that more than 80 percent of the firm's food products use flexible packaging, which has led it to look at bio-based alternatives to reduce impact on the environment.
A Lay's-brand potato chip bag contains layers of polypropylene and low density polyethylene, as well as a metalized layer, sealing and printing. As a result, the bags "are very challenging to recycle at end of life," according to Narayan-Sarathy.
PepsiCo has worked with several bioplastics to design compostable bags. The firm has seen the most interest in PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate), which Narayan-Sarathy said is 100 percent bio-based and is biodegradable in different environments. PHA also produces 60 percent less greenhouses gases than polyolefins such as PP and PE, she added.
"Pepsi is at the top of the food chain, so we buy laminated film, make bags, then fill them and sell them," Narayan-Sarathy said. But with bio-based packaging, the firm "started from scratch. … It's been a multiyear journey."
"We needed to identify biodegradable alternatives for all the minor components of packaging," she explained. "All layers are designed to be compostable. We're using biopolymer blends and only compost-certified inks."
The biggest challenge with PHA-based packaging, according to Narayan-Sarathy, is the material's sensitivity to moisture.
"We have to figure out ways to improve moisture performance," she said, adding that PepsiCo also is using biopolymer-based adhesives and coatings for performance enhancement.
PepsiCo's bio-based food bags were launched in pilot markets in the U.S., Chile and India in 2018, although some of that work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The products are sold at Whole Foods stores and have been sold at the Coachella music festival.
PepsiCo's broader sustainability goals include having all of its packaging be recyclable or compostable by 2025 and reducing virgin plastics per serving of its products by 50 percent. The firm also wants to use 50 percent recycled content and reach net zero emissions by 2040.
Narayan-Sarathy, who joined PepsiCo in 2010, said the firm is looking to minimize plastics use and invest in recycling infrastructure and consumer education. She added that PepsiCo's Sodastream product — an at-home beverage maker — can eliminate 200 million plastic bottles by 2030.