In early March, some of the biggest companies in the FMCG space committed to increasing investments in the creation of a circular economy for flexible plastics. Gloria Gabellini, director of packaging policy at PepsiCo, tells us more about how her organisation will be looking to put these commitments into practice.


For the benefit of readers who might have missed this news when it was first announced, could you introduce the initiative?

PepsiCo, alongside five peer companies, is pledging to increase investment and support a series of public policy interventions to accelerate the transition toward a circular economy for flexible packaging across Europe. It will be built on the principles of resource ‎efficiency, prevention of waste and pollution, and lowering the overall environmental impact of the packaging.

Our companies are already reviewing packaging designs to cut unnecessary materials, boost recyclability and increase the use of recycled content. To ensure flexible packaging is kept within the economy, we will need improvements to the waste management infrastructure, which must be supported by the right policy instruments.

This is why, while we’re working on innovative packaging designs and solutions, we want to collaborate with partners and governmental bodies to make changes happen quickly.

The scale and magnitude of the transition requires action from companies, policymakers, experts, academics, and societal organisations. The initiative wishes to step up collaboration across the packaging value chain, with EPR-schemes and with EU and local governments, to support the implementation of these changes rapidly.

In the context of PepsiCo’s wider goals, how will the results of this new pledge work in relation to the company’s existing sustainability pledges and projects?

We are working to build a circular economy for packaging as part of our wider pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) ambition. Pep+ is our strategic end-to-end transformation, which puts sustainability at the heart of our business. As part of our “positive value chain” pillar, we recognise that we must play our part in creating a world where packaging can be recycled and never becomes waste.

While flexible packaging can be recycled in some EU markets, we know that the extent to which it is recycled needs to be more widespread. The scale of change that needs to happen to realize effective collection and recycling of flexible packaging is massive.

At PepsiCo, we have signalled that we are ready to use recycled content in our chip bags, and we hope this will provide suppliers with the confidence to set up investment to increase the supply, and the recycling infrastructure to organize to meet demands such as ours. But we realise that we cannot do it all alone, so by working with our peer companies and together pledging for investments and policy changes, we want to create the right conditions that will lead to flexible packaging recycling.

This pledge was announced just one day prior to the announcement of a UN resolution that aims to end plastic pollution and create a legally binding agreement on plastic waste. I wonder how you’d reflect on the key action points made in the flexibles pledge, in light of the announcement from UNEA?

We believe a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution has the potential to spur rapid progress towards a circular economy, including for flexible packaging. Aligning all stakeholders around common frameworks and definitions will create a level playing field across countries, and drive the systemic change needed to reclaim valuable packaging material in more places around the world.

PepsiCo is supportive and the Flexible Packaging Initiative in Europe is an example of how we are engaging in partnerships throughout the full packaging value chain as we work to achieve our 2030 goal to reduce virgin plastic by 50% per serving across our global food & beverage portfolio, including by using 100% recycled and renewable content in our chip bags in Europe.

The companies involved in this initiative have earmarked “advanced recycling” as being of particular importance in terms of the creation of a circular economy for flexibles. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a number of reports recently which argue that chemical recycling is currently of limited use in the fight against plastic pollution. What will you and your partners be doing in your attempts to make chemical recycling technologies viable at scale?

Our companies want to support the developments of technologies that can close the loop for flexible packaging recycling, and we have partnered with leaders in the recycling industry to trial and advance sorting technologies such as through the Holy Grail 2.0 initiative.

Advanced recycling means any recycling technology allowing full circularity, i.e. food-grade output, including both advanced mechanical recycling or chemical recycling. However, today, mechanical recycling cannot yet guarantee quality and safety in line with the need of direct food contact applications.

So in the shorter term, we need to rely on chemically recycled plastic for food-grade packaging. At PepsiCo our vision is a world where both these technologies are complementary to each other – mechanically recycling what is possible and then chemically recycling the rest. By creating demand for recycled flexible film in Europe, we are sending a clear signal that there is demand from food companies to incorporate recycled plastic in their flexible packaging.

As chemical recycling is recognised as one solution to improve the full circularity of flexible packaging, the companies in the initiative advocate for more supportive European regulations that swiftly provide increased legal clarity and investment certainty.

Participants have pledged “substantial investments” towards the realisation of fully circular flexible packaging. I wonder if you can break down some of your key areas of interest/potential investment in this regard?

PepsiCo is ready to make considerable investments to make the recycling of flexible packaging a reality. Our joint companies’ contribution in accelerating the transition will happen in various ways:

We invest in upgrading packaging design to meet recycling requirements.

We currently take a value chain responsibility with the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fees and support increasing EPR fees to meet net costs of collection, sorting & recycling, in order to stimulate improved waste management infrastructure to ensure flexible packaging is actually recycled to high quality secondary raw materials.

We also invest in various projects with partners to develop and scale new solutions, including collection, improved sorting techniques and advanced recycling technologies.

Finally, we pilot various alternative formats, including refill & reuse models.