Recycled packaging: A key part of circular economy

Amid the current waste crisis, the adoption of the circular economy is one of the effective measures to prevent post-consumer plastic packaging from being discharged into the environment. That means used plastic bottles can be collected and recycled into new ones that are safe to re-use.

In Vietnam, several manufacturers of consumer goods have started using food-grade recycled plastic in their production although they may face challenges of being pioneers and shed part of their revenue. However, such an endeavor will pave the way for the circular economy to secure a position here.

Pioneers in environmental sustainability

Protecting the environment is absolutely a right thing to do. It is also true, however, that without economic benefits, it would not be easy for businesses and consumers to embrace environmental protection measures. This is even harder now that the Covid-19 pandemic is still ravaging the entire world and many environmental innovations must give way to business survival first.

However, La Vie LLC., a member of Nestlé, has continued to implement its initiatives for sustainable environment. La Vie has recently launched its first natural mineral water using 50% recycled PET (rPET) plastic bottles. The initiative is another effort to promote a circular economy for packaging and earns La Vie the title of the first mineral water brand in Vietnam to use packaging made from recycled plastic.

Initially putting into use with La Vie 700ml natural mineral water bottles which are 50% of food-grade rPET, it will be also applied to other products in line with the availability of rPET in the market. However, to carry out this plan, La Vie had spent several years for the preparations, from the concept to finished products.

rPET is a type of plastic made from used PET bottles in line with a closely-monitored recycling process meeting safety and hygiene standards for food and beverage packaging. In addition, it also includes some control over the source material through a system of collecting, sorting and recycling plastic bottles.

Mr. Fausto Tazzi, General Manager of La Vie, said the company is importing rPET material from Europe at a price 30-50% higher than that of new plastic materials, which results in an increase in production costs. However, La Vie is willing to accept the reduction in profit, he said.

“We make this product for the sake of the future, not for profit,” said Mr. Tazzi. “As a pioneering company, we are ready to take responsibility and risks.” He added that in 2018, La Vie also became the first company in Vietnam to stop using plastic cap seals as this part of packaging is easy to be discharged into the environment, even though many consumers at that time disapproved of the disposal. Mr. Tazzi hopes that La Vie will use 100%-recycled-plastic bottles instead of the current 50% rPET packaging in the years to come.

According to Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Hong Quan, director of the Institute for Circular Economy Development (ICED), the use of recycled plastic from containers in food and beverage  packaging should be encouraged while single-use plastic must be restricted. However, the high cost of recycled plastic bottles means that companies adopting this practice should have good intentions, long-term business vision and the willingness to cut part of their profit.

However, in return, a pioneering company will surely win the support of customers and gain more reputation, Mr. Quan said.

The first steps to build circular economy for packaging

Food and beverage makers have to confront numerous challenges in using recycled plastic because there seems to be no high-quality food-grade recycled plastics manufacturers in Vietnam. Therefore, La Vie’s initiative indicates a high demand for recycled plastic from large companies, encouraging more local firms to invest in rPET manufacturing facilities to promote a circular economy for packaging in Vietnam. 

It is such great news that lender HSBC in July last year offered green credit to Duy Tan Plastics JSC, a local plastics manufacturer, to develop a factory which recycles post-consumer plastic bottles into new ones. The US$60-million project, which is located in the Mekong Delta province of Long An, reached completion and is slated for operation in the first quarter of 2021.

As shared by Le Anh, vice president of Duy Tan Plastics, rPET products are made from used PET bottles which go through a careful collection, sorting, and recycling process. At the Duy Tan facility, used plastic bottles will be cut into small pieces to become input materials for the production of other products. At present, Duy Tan Company mainly collects products for making recycled materials through scrap vendors in southern Vietnam.

After local firms entered the rPET market, it is crucial to set up a system to facilitate the at-source sorting, collecting and recycling post-consumer plastic bottles. Before such a fully-fledged system is developed, business community can join hands to pilot small-scale models such as waste sorting points at supermarkets, added the director of ICED.

La Vie is also a founding member of the Packaging Recycling Organisation Vietnam (PRO Vietnam) which consists of many other international companies operating in Vietnam to promote waste collecting and recycling progress in the country.

Source: The Saigon Times


10 July, 2019