Kraft Heinz Virgin Plastics Reduction Commitment Announcement Pending

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

March 28, 2022

6 Min Read
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Kraft Heinz says it will announce “a substantial virgin plastic reduction commitment” no later than Q12023. It’s an ambition the corporation contends it’s been working on for two years.

This “announcement” of the “pending announcement” follows an agreement with As You Sow to set a new goal to reduce plastic packaging. The agreement comes after shareholders came to the nonprofit advocacy with concerns the food and beverage giant was not taking sufficient action to reduce plastic packaging.  

Kraft Heinz Jonah Smith, global lead Environmental Social Governance, and Linda Roman, associate director R&D, discussed with Waste360 work in progress, key accomplishments to date, challenges, and how they deal with them.

The corporation aims to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable, and or compostable by 2025 as well as increase recycled content. That’s a tall goal, especially considering, with just over three years to go, it’s 83% there.

“The commitment is ambitious and technically challenging and will take the collaboration and partnerships of several organizations throughout our value chain.  We continue to make progress and aggressively work towards this goal utilizing a variety of mechanisms, from take-back and reuse packaging pilots, to new innovative packaging solutions on materials and design,” Smith says.

Dealing with multimaterial plastics is among large focuses now.  

“Making these materials more compostable or recyclable is challenging as it’s hard to replace current materials with what will perform as well,” Roman says, adding that the team has worked with the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) to try and ensure future material designs meet processors’ requirements. 

Kraft Heinz is turning attention specifically to flexible packaging, sponsoring Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF) who has piloted plans to do curbside collection, sorting, and processing of materials, and to create end markets for them.

Some output from that project was turned into roofing boards of 94% recycled plastic and fiber and installed in three of the corporation’s manufacturing facilities. Kraft Heinz will continue exploring ways to scale these pilots with proof of concept.

IMAGE 1 Kraft Heinz Roof.jpg

“A lot of CPG companies have flexible packaging as part of their portfolio. If we can show through the pilot with MRFF that you can collect these materials, get consumers to sort, and get curbside recycling collection services to pick up and put them into roofing board that does what it’s supposed to, material that would have gone to landfills now has a second life,” Smith says.

As far as sustainability efforts within its own wheelhouse (packaging as opposed to roofing), it works with TerraCycle’s Loop on a takeback program, offering customers a reusable ketchup bottle, with the idea being to cut down on waste from the 650 million Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottles sold globally a year.  Consumers return them to the store for bottles that are cleaned, sanitized, and refilled. The program, which began in the UK, launched in Canada this past year and the corporation  is assessing how it might scale the model.

Among other brand-specific initiatives, Maxwell House compostable coffee pods launched in Canada. And a 100% recyclable, fiber-based version of microwavable Kraft Macaroni & and Cheese cups is currently being tested.  Kraft Heinz estimates the recyclable cups will result in a 10-million-pound reduction of plastic a year.

Making headway toward its commitments is only doable through partnerships, Roman says.

Years back, Kraft Heinz joined APR’s Residential Film and Flexible Film Recycling Demand Champion program and now works with the Recycling Partnership’s Film and Flexibles Coalition to report out the use of recycled content in its supply chain. Its newest move to work outside of a silo is participation in the U.S. Plastics Pact.

“We work with producers, coalitions, and companies across the value chain. We’ll partner with startups, suppliers, universities, and innovators like NREL [U.S. Department of Energy lab] with its BOTTLE initiative [to develop chemical upcycling strategies and redesign plastics for recyclability].

We engage in these partnerships because packaging sustainability is an industry and global challenge. So, we need end-of-life solutions that can apply to more than just our own packages,” Roman says.

A deep and wide footprint can be advantageous. 

“Size works in our favor in that we can pilot, see how well it works, adapt, and launch across platforms globally if appropriate. And scale allows us to find good partners to collaboratively have impact,” Smith says.

By the same token, operating across the globe can be trying. Legislation can be complicated and varied, and it quickly changes across regions.

“We may need to change out production lines, and it can be challenging to do, especially within existing time constraints,” he says.

There are dynamics tied to having a diverse portfolio of brands and products; different temperature states, different packaging formats, and other variables with no one-size-fits-all answer.

“So, we explore a plethora of different technologies to help us meet our [sustainability] commitments,” Roman says, acknowledging that one commitment, action, or engagement will not make a dent in fixing a whole system, from package design to ensuring consumers know what to do with spent packaging, to finding end markets.

“One of the things that’s important to us is to identify alternative solutions and [embark on a] journey where we’re testing and evaluating along the way. It’s not just putting final solutions into the market. It’s also exploring and finding new ways whether with infrastructure, new materials, or new packaging formats (such as how materials are combined),” Roman says.

Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator for As You Sow, which represents companies’ shareholders, notices an encouraging corporate trend.

“What we are seeing is recognition that virgin plastic reduction cannot be achieved solely by increasing recycled content. Kraft Heinz's goal, and every other virgin reduction goal As You Sow has worked with companies to set, stipulates exploration of reusable and refillable packaging and zero-waste packaging.” 

Transparency is still a problem, industrywide.

As You Sow’s 2021 Corporate Plastic Pollution Scorecard indicates where companies are and are not reporting. Overall, McBee says, they are slowly improving in data transparency. But there is a “glaring need” for increased reporting in order for investors to assess how well corporate policies address plastic pollution.

Smith goes back to Heinz Kraft’s intentions: “We are pushing on the pedal to make this happen. To make packaging more sustainable. Achieving this does not just cut down on packaging waste; it will also help us achieve our ambitious 2050 carbon neutrality goals … Where we can cut down on packaging waste and reduce emissions simultaneously is certainly a sweet spot.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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