How the soft drinks industry is walking the talk on sustainability and responsibility

Written by Nicholas Hodac on 2 December 2019 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Europe’s soft drinks industry is embracing sustainability and responsibility, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe’s Nicholas Hodac explains.

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Creating a sustainable future is our generation’s biggest challenge and the realisation of a circular economy and a carbon-neutral Europe are top priorities for both governments and businesses. Europe’s soft drinks industry is driving sustainability throughout its value chain - from sourcing, production and distribution to packaging, collection, recycling and reuse. With 424 production plants across the EU, our sector is deeply rooted in the European economy and it has been reducing its environmental footprint for the past 30 years.


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For example, production is now closer to markets to minimise  transport and energy emissions, and we are investing  in the very latest plant equipment to enable energy, water and raw materials to be reused and their consumption reduced. The sector has sought solutions right across its operations - from water stewardship and reuse to the elimination of CFC’s from chilling equipment more than 20 years ago. But today, packaging is the focus of discussion in the EU and beyond.

The soft drinks industry has made some good progress here and recognises that there is a need to do more. Our sector was instrumental in setting up and running packaging collection schemes across the EU and PET drinks bottles are now Europe’s most recycled item. We use a range of packaging materials - plastic, metal, glass and carton - and have invested in significant light-weighting and design initiatives to reduce raw materials consumption and emissions.

"Climate change has crucial implications for our planet and citizens, and also for the sustainability and competitiveness of our industry"

Last year we made a series of pledges to make our plastic packaging more sustainable – including that, by 2025, 100 percent will be recycled and that we will use a minimum of 25 percent recycled content. This year we were proud to sign the Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration along with stakeholders from across the value chain who are working together to find solutions and set sustainability objectives.

Climate change has crucial implications for our planet and citizens, and for the sustainability and competitiveness of our industry. We are excited to learn more about the EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy and look forward to working with the EU institutions to create a sustainable future. We urge policymakers to drive an ambitious political framework based on the Better Regulation approach of evidence, economic impact, best practice and effective, inclusive solutions that ensure everyone in the value chain takes up their responsibility and that policies are fit for purpose.

We are also committed to acting responsibly in supporting healthy, active lifestyles and reducing people’s sugar intake is a core objective. It is achieved through a combination of reformulation, new product development, placing promotion behind lower sugar products, and portion control – consumers can now choose over 30 different pack sizes smaller than the standard 33cl can.

"Our commitments demonstrate how self-regulation can deliver swift results"

No- and low-calorie sweeteners are important enablers and we welcome the EU institutions’ continued support in promoting their safety. No/ low-calorie drinks now represent one-quarter of all soft drink sales across Europe, up to 40 percent in several markets. We reduced calories across our products a further 11.9 percent between 2015-2017. This was well ahead of our commitment to meeting the EU target of a 10 percent by 2020, the only sector to do so, and we are determined to continue on our sugar reduction journey.

Behaving responsibly also extends to our sales and marketing policies, particularly in relation to children. UNESDA’s Commitments to the EU Platform  for action on diet, physical activity and health, first made in 2006, bind signatories to behave responsibly in a number of areas including: no advertising to children under 12 – not on TV, in print, online or on social media; no selling of ANY soft drink products in EU primary schools and no selling of any added-sugar drinks in EU secondary schools.

Our commitments demonstrate how self-regulation can deliver swift results. We urge the EU to support such partnership initiatives and will continue to use independent, third parties to audit our compliance. Innovation is the life-blood of our industry and vital in allowing us to meet evolving consumer demand. By upholding a regulatory framework that stimulates research and innovation, the EU will enable our sector to be more productive and resilient. We remain committed to maintaining momentum and working as a reliable partner in building a healthy and sustainable future for all Europeans.

About the author

Nicholas Hodac is Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe

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