Three Nestlé bottled water brands are making the switch to 100 percent recycled PET bottles, bringing the company closer to achieving its sustainability goals.
Nestlé Waters announced June 16 that its Ozarka, Deer Park and Zephyrhills brands will join Poland Springs in having 100 percent recycled and 100 percent recyclable packaging. The company confirmed the move in a recent interview with Plastics News.
David Tulauskas, vice president and chief sustainability officer of Nestlé Waters North America, said the new recycled PET bottles for the regionally distributed spring water brands should be hitting shelves as the announcement rolled out.
The recycled bottles will be in three different sizes: 20-ounce, 700-milliliter, 1-liter and 1.5-liter bottles.
Tulauskas said the recycled bottles is another step toward achieving sustainability goals for the company, which is working to move toward eliminating approximately 6 billion pounds of PET used in the U.S. for beverage containers. Of that, 2 billion pounds are actually recovered and recycled and turned back into high-grade, food-grade PET resin; the other 4 billion are landfilled, incinerated or leaked out to the environment.
The Switzerland-based company pledged Nestlé Waters will achieve 25 percent recycled content across its still water brands by 2021 and 50 percent by 2025, which equals out to about 350 million to 400 million pounds, he said.
"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it," he said. "It's great our industry has made a lot of commitments, but it's really hard to do."
Poland Spring was Nestlé's first foray into 100 percent recycled and recyclable water bottles, and with the success of sourcing the material and turning it back into food-grade plastic, the company found a way to bring three more regional bottled water lines to the circular economy.
"That's really the key: There is no silver bullet to solving plastic pollution. We want to make sure that 4 billion pounds gets recycled, and it's going to require everybody, including consumers, to create a circular economy and get excited to put [the bottle] in the bin," Tulauskas said.
He referenced recent Nestlé initiatives to put QR codes on water bottles that include where the water came from, what the company does to protect the source and add a zip code to find where the consumer can recycle the bottle.
The COVID-19 pandemic did account for some disruption in the supply as many states closed recycling returns, Tulauskas said.
"But, the good thing is that when consumers do redeem these bottles, it's a really short supply chain," he said. "So even with the closing of redemption programs, it does bounce back fairly quickly, especially in states like Michigan, and it's helping to [feed] the supply back into the recycled material."
Tulauskas also noted that material for the bottles is typically consumed, recycled and reused in the same region. For example, Ozarka-brand bottles are manufactured directly across the street from the Dallas recycling facility where the PET flake is reprocessed.
"When someone consumes an Ozarka and recycles it there in Texas, it's likely going to end up at that recycling facility," he said.
Nestlé Waters has 25 U.S. bottling facilities and manufactures in areas where its products are sold.
Tulauskas said the company supported recent pushes in policy to have minimum recycled content but also noted that infrastructure throughout the country is not only outdated but is not regulated uniformly in each state, creating confusion for consumers to recycle and assure their bottle will actually be recycled and reused.
"This is a great opportunity to close the loop, and we're showing we can," Tulauskas said. "It's really clear how much packaging we have and use, and people want to make sure it's responsibly managed."
In June, Vevey-based Nestlé said it will "explore strategic options, including a potential sale, for the majority of the Nestlé Waters business in North America, excluding its international brands. This review is expected to be completed by early 2021."
The international brands — San Pellegrino, Perrier and Acqua Panna — will further be the focus of the company.
This foreshadowed a July 2 announcement from the company that Nestlé Canada will sell its Pure Life bottled water brand to family owned, Shelburne, Ontario-based Ice River Springs. The deal is expected to close in 2020's third quarter.
The North American water business has annual sales of more than $3.5 billion, according to Nestlé.