- Diageo and Pilot Lite, a venture management company, recently launched Pulpex Limited, a sustainable packaging technology company. The companies created what they call "the world's first ever 100% plastic free paper-based spirits bottle, made entirely from sustainably sourced wood." The bottle will debut with Johnnie Walker scotch whisky in early 2021.
- Pulpex Limited created a consortium of companies, including founding partners Unilever and PepsiCo, to further develop and scale the paper bottle. More partners are expected to be announced later in the year.
- "With these challenges we have on packaging and plastics, no one company can solve these things," Ron Khan, vice president of beverage packaging for PepsiCo, told Food Dive. "We've been looking at a lot of partnerships to come together as an industry to solve some of these problems." PepsiCo expects to pilot branded paper bottles with Pulpex’s technology in 2021.
As plastic packaging has increasingly been criticized, beverage companies have been seeking out alternatives. But developing a paper bottle that can hold liquids and still be 100% plastic-free hasn't been easy.
"Liquids are not natural bedfellows, so from an R&D point of view, there's a lot of work to do to be able to do that," Khan said. "Paper, of course, is highly recycled, but it's a little bit more challenging, how you put liquids in plain paper."
Although there have been developments in this area, many recyclable beverage containers have a mix of materials. TetraPak, for example, is made with thin layers of polyethylene, paper and aluminum put together. Unless those layers are separated, the packaging may not be accepted by every recycler.
This new bottle from Pulpex is made with sustainably sourced pulp for food-safe standards and is also intended to be fully recyclable in standard waste streams.
Unilever, PepsiCo and Diageo will be using the new technology in non-competing product categories next year. Diageo is making bottles for its alcoholic beverages. Unilever will cover personal and household care, and PepsiCo will be in the non-alcoholic beverage space, although Khan said they are still discussing what product would be best to pilot with the bottle. More partner companies are expected to join as the consortium develops.
"If [the bottle] can solve some of the problems in society with waste, then we need to make it as widely available as possible," he said. "If you look at the three partners now, we've covered quite a few product categories."
The bottle announced Monday was built for Diageo's alcoholic beverages. Khan said R&D work is needed to get this breakthrough technology useable for Pepsi for manufacturing, quality and distribution.
According to Reuters, Diageo's packaging is less than 5% plastic. Working with PepsiCo and Unilever, the spirits company set goals to decrease and recycle plastic in their packaging by 2025.
PepsiCo said its role in the Pulpex Consortium will continue to drive its sustainability progress. In 2019, PepsiCo pledged to reduce virgin plastic content across its beverage business by 35% by 2025. The company is also working to make 100% of its packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025, which is reportedly about 90% complete now. Going forward, the company will continue to have a mix of packaging in its portfolio.
"They all have a role to play with packaging," Khan said. "There's no inherent issues with plastics. In fact, plastics are a brilliant material. But as we say in our strategy, the issue is about plastics going to waste."
PepsiCo is already working on other alternative packaging materials. In 2019, the company announced it would test aluminum cans for Aquafina water products in some retail locations this year. And in March, PepsiCo said it was trying recyclable molded pulp rings on its soda cans to replace plastic ones.
This new bottle could be a big development in food and beverage makers' efforts to cut back on plastic and operate more sustainably. Although smaller companies, including Carlsberg and Frugalpac have tested out paper bottles, PET is still one of the most commonly used plastic resins in food and beverage packaging.