Nestlé Waters North America Director of Sustainability on reducing PET waste: ‘It’s not just a lofty ambition’

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Improving recycling rates and collection of PET bottles will have to be in partnership with other organizations and will require investment in education recycling programs, said Valeria Orozco, director of sustainability, Nestlé Waters North America. ©GettyImages / Michael Phillips
Improving recycling rates and collection of PET bottles will have to be in partnership with other organizations and will require investment in education recycling programs, said Valeria Orozco, director of sustainability, Nestlé Waters North America. ©GettyImages / Michael Phillips

Related tags: Nestlé waters, Sustainability, Pet, Recyclable materials

Nestlé Waters North America has been working for the past seven years to increase the amount of recycled PET plastic in its bottled water, and according to director of sustainability, Valeria Orozco, it's confident it will achieve 25% recycled plastic by 2021 and 50% by 2025.

“This is now part of a seven-year journey of putting our money where our mouth is in terms of developing this and procuring our suppliers to make sure that we get food grade recycled plastic and it meets FDA quality standards and it meets our own quality standards,”​ Orozco told FoodNavigator-USA.

Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) has taken a targeted approach to its recycling goals, first working with its regional bottled water brands in California, Arrowhead Brand Mountain Spring Water and Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water, which are now made with 50% recycled plastic.

“We have a lot of experience in procuring rPET and the type of rPET that we need. We feel very confident in that we’re going to achieve it ​[25% by 2021 and 50% by 2050], it’s not just a lofty ambition,”​ Orozco said.

The company is expanding its relationship with key supplier, Plastrec (Joliette, Canada), and working with other suppliers, to enable it to nearly quadruple its use of food-grade recycled plastic (rPET) in less than three years. This comes hot on the heels of Nestlé Waters’ announcement last month about the expansion of its partnership with CarbonLITE​, as the rPET supplier builds a third US facility in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.

According to Orozco, as its supplier network expands, NWNA will be tackling the rest of its bottled water portfolio of six regional brands over the next three to seven years.

“Our real focus is being able to have the 25%​ [recycled plastic] across our domestic portfolio. Where we’ll deploy it and where we’ll allocate that, that’s still a work in progress,”​ she said.

The consumer piece and closing the loop

As NWNA's network of suppliers using recycled plastic in bottled water production continues to grow, the other major effort will be getting consumers involved.

Last year, Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water​ debuted a bottle made from 100% food grade recycled plastic (rPET) in the North American market featuring its ‘How2Recycle’ information in an effort to inspire consumers to recycle.

The Nestlé Pure Life has been performing well in reaching consumers and follows the larger industry trend of premiumization in bottled water.

“Just because a bottle of water is 100% plastic, that may not be the only thing that a consumer is looking for,”​ Orozco said.

“I think the beauty of the 100% rPET bottle is that’s it’s really beautiful… it inspires other consumers to think about, ‘oh look, this bottle comes from other bottles.’”

But there is still much more work to be done, Orozco acknowledged.

A recent global survey by Nielsen showed that 73% of consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

“Research shows that consumers want to change, they just need help understanding how their everyday choices can make a big dent on larger issues like pollution, especially when it comes to plastic pollution,”​ Crystal Barnes, SVP, global responsibility & sustainability, Nielsen, said.

And while PET bottles are 100% recyclable and recycling bins and signage may seem commonplace in many homes, office buildings, and municipalities, the reality is that 33.4% of single-serve PET bottled water containers are recycled, according to data from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).

“The collection part is one we don’t have full control over; we need to be doing that in partnership,”​ she said.

Nestlé Waters has made indirect investments in recycling infrastructure in the US through its $6m investment in the Closed Loop Fund​ to support enhanced recycling programs to increase municipality recycling rates.

More recently, Closed Loop Fund announced a $1.5m investment in rPlanet Earth, a completely vertically integrated manufacturer of post-consumer recycled PET.

“It’s a very analytical approach to solving a collection or infrastructure problem,”​ Orozco said.

“We can have all these long-term contracts, but if we’re not helping the collection of this material it’s incomplete.”

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