Following the announcement of Carlsberg Group’s new sustainability pledges, we spoke to sustainability director Simon Boas Hoffmeyer to find out how the company plans to meet them, the roadblocks it may face, and its visions of a brighter future for packaging.

A key part of Carlsberg’s new pledge is to make all its bottles and cans fully recyclable by 2030. How is the company planning to make this happen? Is there a roadmap in place?

We are proud of our current performance on packaging, but we also know that we can improve the recyclability and reusability of some of our packaging types, as well as our ability to incorporate new materials from renewable sources – the Fibre Bottle being one example.

In terms of changing the value of packaging, modifying the material usage or recyclability of its design is not a quick fix, as it requires engagement with suppliers, governments, competitors and consumers in the markets where we operate. In this regard, we believe that our various packaging targets for 2030 are ambitious, and we have identified the actions needed to achieve our 2030 targets.

Likewise, another key element is the pledge to ensure that 90% of its used packaging is recycled. This obviously throws up a number of issues – from collection to different levels of recycling infrastructure in the territories the company operates in. Can we get some insight into the steps Carlsberg will take to make this happen?

Increasing the collection and recycling of our bottles and cans to 90% will not be an easy feat. To achieve this target, we will be working with partners across the value chain to encourage the introduction of efficient industry-lead deposit return schemes (DRS) and increase the rates at which we get our refillable bottles back.

We believe that it is most strategic to start with scaling up fair, industry-driven deposit schemes in Western Europe. We will then use these outcomes alongside proven operating models to encourage introductions in other markets, while also ensuring that the system is efficient from an environmental and economic perspective.

This would require the system to have a not-for-profit basis, alongside transparent ownership by producers and retailers. It also calls for a transparent fee structure and material ownership within the DRS. There must be no discrimination between producers, importers or packaging types, and revenues, including non-redeemed deposit, that is obtained within the deposit system must only be used to finance the DRS – i.e., it is not a tax object.

Another central pillar of the announcement is Carlsberg’s aim to cut its use of virgin bottle-based plastic by 50% and implement the use of 50% recycled content. How are you planning to deliver on this? Will it be challenging to acquire enough recycled material?

We aim to reduce our use of virgin fossil-based plastics in a number of ways, including the use of post-consumer recycled material, defined in ISO14021 as material generated by households or commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities that can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain, and excludes pre-consumer material (e.g. production scrap).

We will also enhance our methods of recycling, as well as utilising renewable plastics, composed of biomass from a living source and able to be continually replenished. When claims of renewability are made for virgin materials, those materials will come from sources that are replenished at a rate equal to or greater than the rate of depletion.

Light-weighting – the reduction of weight of a virgin plastic application, such as thinning for a bottle or reduction of the surface of an existing application – and replacing plastics with renewable fibre or reusable alternatives are other ways in which we will achieve our goal.

Regarding our targeted increase of recycled content, our efforts to support collection and recycling of bottles and cans will in turn support our progress. Besides the collection, we will also be working with suppliers to increase the share of recycled materials across our packaging types and drive a circular economy.

Carlsberg says that the current processing of raw materials alongside the production and disposal of packaging are contributing factors to over 65% of total beer-in-hand emissions. This seems high – we’re usually told that packaging contributes around 5-10% of a product’s total carbon emissions. Could you let us know more about how you arrived at this figure?

We carry out our regular beer-in-hand footprint analysis in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions; the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint guidelines, including the category rules for beer; and the Beverage Industry Greenhouse Gas Emissions Sector Guidance.

Detailed supplier data – including primary data for more than 60% of our supplier spend in the most recent assessment – enables us to track emissions down to product level for each market and identify relevant reduction activities. We are increasing the collection of primary data direct from suppliers to further enhance the accuracy of our calculations in our next assessment.

Packaging accounts for the biggest portion of our beer-in-hand emissions – 41% in our latest assessment. We work with suppliers to reduce emissions from producing bottles and cans for our beers by using less material overall and introducing more recycled or renewable content where feasible.

In 2021, we partnered with suppliers to trial a new low-carbon glass bottle in the UK and switch to a lightweight can in four Eastern European markets; this will cut our aluminium use by 1,500 tonnes annually. In the same year, several of our brands and markets focused on reducing plastic use or increasing recycled content. For example, our Ringnes brand in Norway launched a Plastic Pledge to use 80% recycled PET in all its plastic packaging and remove 1,000 tonnes of single-use plastic from the market by 2025. We also carried out a lifecycle analysis of secondary packaging for cans to help us identify the lowest carbon options.

We laid out our beer-in-hand methodology in our latest ESG report.

We’ve seen Carlsberg experiment with a number of different materials in recent times – from aluminium to PET – and even “paper bottles”. Are there any materials that the company favours over others, or are you relatively agnostic on this?

We want to support the circular economy through our products and activities; our set of targets and activities under our ZERO Packaging Waste ambition reflects our focus on the materials and the infrastructure that we believe can make this a reality.

For example, we will continue to support the improved efficiency and scaling up of DRS as well as increase our inputs of reusable, recyclable and renewable packaging that are compatible with these. We know that carbon footprints are different across packaging types and will therefore scale up the application of existing lower-carbon packaging solutions, as well as the exploration and integration of new lower-carbon innovations like the Fibre Bottle. But our belief is that we should offer the consumer a wide range of choices of packaging – our role is to make all of them more sustainable, and even invent new ones!

Carlsberg was recently included in ‘the Dirty Dozen’, a list compiled by NGO Surfers Against Sewage, which claims that several companies – including Carlsberg – are lagging on their efforts to enable recycling, pivot to reuse models, and reduce packaging. I’m sure you’ve seen this news by now – how would you respond to these accusations?

That list was focused on the UK. Our colleagues in Carlsberg Marstons Brewing Company (CMBC) take sustainability very seriously, working tirelessly to prevent their products from ending up in nature. To this end, they are working towards the new targets in our new Together Towards ZERO and Beyond ESG programme. This includes a new ambition to achieve ZERO packaging waste, with concrete targets to achieve a 90% recycling rate on our bottles and cans and make 100% of our packaging recyclable, reusable or renewable by 2030.

Furthermore, they have taken positive action to reduce plastic waste through innovations such as the Snap Pack packaging. Snap Pack reduces the use of secondary plastic packaging by up to 76% compared to the previous format and subsequently reduces the risk of plastic polluting the environment. CMBC is also hard at work preparing to support Scotland’s DRS when this begins in 2023, and we expect to see a similar system reach the UK in the future. This move will be critical to achieving our ambitions.