Promoting a waste-free circular economy at Nestlé

June 14, 2022 | 08:00
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Packaging helps protect food and beverages, ensure product quality and safety, and prevent food waste. However, these essential requirements should not come at the expense of the planet. Khuat Quang Hung, head of Corporate Affairs at Nestlé Vietnam, told VIR’s Tra My how the company is committed to reducing waste from packaging, and taking concrete actions that help build a waste-free future.

How do you evaluate efforts to reduce plastic waste and promote a circular economy in Vietnam?

Promoting a waste-free circular economy at Nestlé
Khuat Quang Hung, head of Corporate Affairs at Nestlé Vietnam

I have seen a growing awareness of environmental issues in the country, particularly among consumers. According to a survey by Kantar in 2020, in Asia, and particularly in Vietnam, food safety is paramount, and the Vietnamese consumers show greater concern about plastic waste compared to other countries in Asia. However, there is a big gap between “say” and “do”. Most consumers still choose convenience and have not really taken action to reduce plastic waste.

According to the Kantar survey, nearly 80 per cent of consumers frequently go on a grocery shopping trip without their bag/basket, thus increasing the need to use free plastic bags. Only 18 per cent of consumers say that when buying products, they make sure that the products are not packed in plastic. A quarter of Vietnamese consumers say that recycling is inconvenient, reaching over 30 per cent in the over-50 age group.

In the past two years, in addition to different sustainable packaging initiatives, we have cooperated with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to implement campaigns to raise awareness for school children, especially on eliminating single-use plastic such as plastic straws, and segregating, collecting, and recycling milk cartons in hundreds of schools.

During its sustainability journey, what lessons has Nestlé Vietnam gained?

Our vision is ambitious: a world in which none of Nestlé’s packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter on land or in seas, oceans, and waterways. We are doing our best to reduce our plastic waste by increasing our use of recycled plastic, reducing our use of new plastic, and helping create circular systems that make it easier to collect, recycle, and reuse these products.

We are committed that by 2025, 100 per cent of our packaging will be recyclable or reusable and we will reduce our use of virgin plastics by one-third.

To tackle this complex and global challenge, we consider our own operations, invest in research and technologies, collaborate with different stakeholders, and educate consumers. We take it as our responsibility and want to be at the forefront of transformation.

For example, we are the first company in Vietnam to have switched from plastic straws to FSC-certified paper straws on all ready-to-drink products. Though the cost of paper straws is three time more expensive than plastic straws, we decided to invest in it because we believe it is simply the right thing to do. The switch to paper straws helps to reduce nearly 700 tonnes of single-use plastic per year.

Another example is the MAGGI soya sauce bottle. We renovated the bottle caps and reduced plastic used by up to 10 per cent for each bottle, contributing to reducing up to 130 tonnes of plastic packaging per year.

Not many businesses in Vietnam are ready to say no to single-use plastic products. What factors can encourage more businesses to participate?

We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to make simple, yet smart and sustainable packaging. This includes refillable designs, alternative delivery solutions, and more recycled content.

Our packaging strategy starts with reducing our use of plastic packaging material. We want to use less packaging material, including less virgin plastic. At Nestlé Vietnam, by the end of 2022, nearly 94 per cent of our packaging will be designed for recycling and we believe that we can achieve 100 per cent by 2025.

To encourage more businesses to join force in tackling plastic waste issue, I would recommend the authorities to formulate relevant regulations to create markets for recycled products. In addition, there should be motivation or policies to encourage businesses that are willing to invest in sustainable packaging.

What other actions does Nestlé Vietnam carry out to encourage reduction of plastic waste?

Last year we made a public commitment on Nestlé Vietnam’s plastic neutrality target by 2025. To make it happen, we made a clear roadmap on how we can fulfill it every year.

In 2021 we also developed Green Dragons, a green ambassador programme, which consists of 165 dynamic, enthusiastic, and young Nestlé employees. They help influence their peers, change mindsets, and encourage all employees to take action to make our planet greener and more beautiful through tree planting, beach cleaning-up activities, and encouraging a green living style.

By Tra My

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