Beverage and food giant PepsiCo Inc. wants to cut the use of virgin plastic by 50 percent per serving, which equates to an absolute cut of 20 percent according to one source, by the end of the decade.
The Purchase, N.Y.-based beverage and food giant said the new goal is for products across the company's global food and beverage lines and includes using 50 percent recycled content in plastic packaging by 2030.
The newly announced approach is part of "pep+," or PepsiCo Positive, a company initiative described as "a strategic end-to-end transformation with sustainability at the center of how the company will create growth and value."
PepsiCo's new "pep+ directly links the future of our business with the future of our planet," Chief Sustainability Officer Jim Andrew said in a statement. "By rapidly expanding the SodaStream ecosystem, we are meeting the needs of consumers at home, away from home, and on-the-go. At the same time, we are also offering consumers positive choices that use less plastic, create fewer emissions, and are better for people."
Pepsi did not respond to a request for additional comments. But As You Sow, a nonprofit environmental group that has been pushing retailers and beverage and food companies to cut plastic use, would like to see the timeline for change shortened.
Pepsi touted its 50 percent per serving reduction in a Sept. 15 announcement, and the 20 percent figure only came out after As You Sow spoke with company officials in a subsequent telephone call that same day, the environmental group said.
Conrad MacKerron, a vice president of As You Sow, said his organization is pleased with the announced reductions but pointed to other companies coming out with similar reduction goals tied to 2025.
"We do believe the timeline needs to be shorter and more in line with their peers who have made a commitment for these reductions five years sooner," MacKerron said in a Sept. 16 interview. "I'm sure they will make progress by 2025, but it seems like a notable concern was that it was longer than that their peers had agreed to."
As part of its push to impact the plastics used by the company, PepsiCo also plans to expand its SodaStream business around the world. SodaStream allows consumers to create their own carbonated beverages at home using concentrate and cylinders of carbon dioxide gas in a reusable system.
PepsiCo is using figures from last year as a baseline to measure the virgin plastic decrease per serving, the company said on its website: "Compared to 2020, we aim for a 50 percent reduction in how much non-renewable virgin plastic is used each time a PepsiCo food or beverage product is enjoyed."
PepsiCo is specifically aiming to cut the use of single-use packaging through the promotion of SodaStream. The system currently is in 40 countries and the brand seeks to "help consumers avoid more than 200 billion plastic bottles by 2020," the company said.
As You Sow estimated PepsiCo should reduce virgin plastic use by 460,000 tons during the next nine years.
While As You So is glad to see a growing use of recycled plastics, MacKerron said PepsiCo's move does not commit to reducing overall plastic use.
"It's understandable these companies are doing more of a modest first step, which is easier, which is swapping virgin for recycled. But eventually the idea is total net reduction of plastic use," he said. "We feel like the inability of management systems to control plastics is going to persist for a while. In the near term, there just needs to be net reductions in plastics so that the flow of plastic waste is reduced."
PepsiCo expects 11 European markets will feature 100 percent recycled PET for "key Pepsi-branded products" by 2022. All Pepsi-branded products in the United States will switch to 100-percent recycled PET by 2030.
On the snack food side of the business, PepsiCo also is rolling out a fully compostable bag made with plant-based materials. Use of this flexible packaging will begin with Off The Eaten Path, a plant-based brand from PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit. The new packaging initially will be available at Whole Foods starting this month.
PepsiCo indicated a willingness to license the technology behind the plant-based bag to other companies at no cost "given the importance of creating a circular food packaging system."
News of the PepsiCo plan comes months after As You Sow agreed to withdraw a shareholder resolution seeking change in how the company uses plastic.
The environmental group agreed to pull the initiative in exchange for a commitment to create a goal regarding the absolute reduction in use of virgin plastic.
"That's a pretty good substantial cut," MacKerron said. "On the other hand, when you look at the kinds of cuts, all these cuts that we've got are virgin plastic. And so they may or may not result in total reduction in plastic use. It may be that they just replace the virgin with recycled content."
Using more recycled plastic instead of virgin resin is good, he added, but his group would like to see an overall reduction.