In 2020, the world was presented with the enormous challenge of how to respond to COVID-19 as the disease spread across the globe. Global action encompassed science-based innovation at many levels, from an energetic policy reaction to new ways of organising business processes, even changing our daily routines to keep us and our families safe and protect our mental wellbeing. By clearly demonstrating how the planet, society and the economy cannot survive in isolation, the pandemic had a profound impact on our operations. The urgency created opportunities to accelerate innovation, helping us and our customers contain the shock to the food system. It also strengthened our purpose as a company: We commit to making food safe and available, everywhere. And we promise to protect what’s good: protecting food, people and the planet.
Throughout the ongoing crisis, we have been focusing on core priorities: protecting people, including our own employees and those of our customers and stakeholders; and protecting food, by helping manufacturers maintain continuous food supplies and further expanding access to safe, nutritious and tasty food. In 2020 alone, over 77 billion litres of products have been sold in Tetra Pak packages.
The pandemic reminded us of the need for resilience in our food systems including providing access to food in the face of a global increase in hunger. Our packaging solutions proved critical to address these issues, as well as our processing and services capabilities. For example, we expanded our Dairy Hub initiatives including in Albania and Senegal to provide support for 39,806 farmers of which 98% were smallholders. In addition, our processing portfolio was optimised to prevent food waste and we have launched our first ever complete processing line for white cheese.
Innovation in nutrition was also key. We worked with a customer in Asia to develop a whole soybean processing solution that could capture unwanted okara – the leftover pulp from soybeans- and incorporate what would have been wasted into premium, high-fibre soy milk drinks. We utilised new digital technologies and services to extend product shelf life and reduce waste. Besides joining forces with our customers to ensure continuity of food supply during the crisis, we also strengthened our partnerships to help 64 million children receive milk or nutritious beverages in schools despite the pandemic.
At the same time, we have continued to make progress over the last year in how we protect the planet, by advancing the development of the world’s most sustainable food package – a carton that is made solely from responsibly sourced renewable or recycled materials, is fully recyclable and carbon neutral.
In 2020 we also significantly stepped up both investment and collaborations across the board to realise this goal – and more partnerships mean faster solutions. Taking on board the lessons of collective action we are taking a full life cycle approach. This means four clear areas of collaborative innovation: maximising the use of renewable materials and sourcing them responsibly in a way that protects biodiversity; minimising the carbon impact of our own operations as well as the impact created by our value chain; enabling greater access to safe food while contributing to food waste reduction; and driving an active agenda to develop sustainable recycling value chains.
Bringing the world’s most sustainable food package to life requires several breakthroughs, and we are pleased to see that – despite challenging requirements - we have made significant progress on our decarbonisation roadmap. We were the world’s first to introduce a package fully made from plant-based renewable materials and in 2020, we sold more than 1 billion of these carton packages. We have also produced more than 12 billion of our pioneering caps made from plant-based polymers since we introduced them to the liquid food industry in 2011 – saving more than 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the process. Our new portfolio of tethered caps will also be made available as a plant-based option, therefore increasing the renewable content of the package while minimising litter.
Our first-generation non-foil packaging solution is now on the supermarket shelf. The protective aluminium layer has been replaced by a more environmentally-sound polymer film, cutting the carbon footprint by almost 25%. The manufacturing and processing technologies that enable this will pave the way for future developments with significantly increased renewable and fibre content.
Another key factor in protecting our interconnected world is protecting biodiversity. We do this by ensuring responsible sourcing of materials. In 2007, we pioneered the FSC™ (Forest Stewardship Council™) certification system to the liquid food carton industry. In 2020, we achieved the possibility to provide 100% of our finished packaging material as FSC™-certified to our customers. This further strengthens our voluntary certification standards, which includes Bonsucro – the industry’s first certification of fully traceable plant-based polymers.
Responsible sourcing needs to go hand in hand with transparent and scientific reporting, for which we work with leading sustainability assessment platforms, such as EcoVadis and CDP. In 2020, we became the only carton packaging company to be included in the CDP leadership band for five years in a row, scoring an outstanding double “A” for climate and forests.
In parallel with our packaging portfolio development, we are minimising emissions across our value chain from raw materials sourcing through to packaging end-of-life. We have successfully delivered on our 2020 climate goal, exceeding our ambition to cap our emissions at 2010 levels despite business growth – in fact, we have reduced total emissions by 19%.
Now we are working towards an even more ambitious goal: to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our own operations by 2030, with an ambition to go net zero across the value chain by 2050. We also believe that it is not sufficient to drive actions without clear measurement. Just as data helped us to respond effectively to COVID-19, we must use science to help us address sustainability issues. As the first company in the food packaging industry to have our climate impact reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) back in 2017, we have also set emissions reduction targets for 2030 in line with 1.5°C across scopes 1, 2 and 3. This is what the latest climate science has told us is needed to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change.
The pandemic revealed just how vulnerable our global food system can be. The importance of getting food to where it’s needed, when it’s needed – and the vital role high-performance packaging and processing plays in achieving this – has never been more apparent. And we expect this will only increase in the future, as we strive to ensure that the world’s growing population has access to safe and nutritious food.
While awareness of the climate emergency has soared in recent years, many still fail to grasp how protecting the environment and expanding access to safe food are closely intertwined as priorities. The simple fact is that we need to tackle them together. The global food supply chain system is responsible for nearly one third of global GHG emissions1. Moreover, about a third of all food produced is lost or wasted2, which also carries a significant carbon footprint – 8% of global GHG emissions3. To put it another way, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of emissions. Combatting food waste with our processing and services solutions is therefore a critical part of addressing the climate crisis. Through our work with customers on the Zero Waste factory we are innovating to tackle waste at the point of production. However, urgent action is required on all sides of industry, government and society to address the dichotomy between the need for greater consumption of food and the impact on natural resources – both in terms of packaging waste and food waste.
Collaboration and partnership are especially vital to recycling, which is one of the key enablers of a low-carbon circular economy. We have worked to develop collection and recycling infrastructure across the globe for many years. This pioneering work has played a vital role in increasing the number of facilities that recycle carton packages worldwide, and we can count on over 170 recycling operations today. The number of our carton packages collected for recycling increased from 32 billion in 2010 to 49 billion in 2020.
In 2020, we continued to play an active role in the top circularity and recycling industry initiatives. For example, we are a proud member of the Consumer Goods Forum Plastic Waste Coalition for Action, along with 40 of the world’s leading brands and retailers. We are a member of all workstreams, including on packaging design, extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and chemical recycling. Besides helping to expand collection and recycling infrastructure, we have been driving awareness programmes and creating further market opportunities for recycled materials. It’s all part of our ambition – a world where all packages are collected, recycled and never become litter.
In 2020, we launched a major global communications campaign called Go nature. Go carton. By fostering debate about sustainable packaging and laying out our approach in a more transparent way it sets out our belief that sustainable, high-performance packaging is critical to help mitigate climate change and address other environmental concerns while feeding a growing population.
To this end, for the first time ever, we established an external sustainability advisory panel with six key opinion leaders from around the world. They will help shape our sustainability agenda and guide us going forward to ensure we meet external challenges, while learning and adapting so we can continue to build towards a better future. Around 70 years ago, our technology and solutions changed the rules of the game in making food safe and available, everywhere. But with the current climate crisis and the potential food security challenges, the industry needs another step change in its evolution. With a strong sustainability foundation and bold ambitions to lead the sustainability transformation, we will continue to pioneer a sustainable future that protects what’s good: Food, People, Planet.
President & CEO, Tetra Pak
3. UN FAO, Food wastage footprint & climate change