Berry Global sees exponential growth in recycled plastics volumes - CEO

Author: Joseph Chang

2021/10/26

NEW YORK (ICIS)--The use of recycled plastics for food service and other offerings is poised for exceptional growth, with Berry Global helping to enable that demand, its CEO said on Tuesday.

Berry recently announced a collaboration with restaurant chain Wendy’s and LyondellBasell to supply plastic clear cups with 20% recycled plastic using a mass balanced approach to Wendy’s US and Canadian restaurants in early 2022. It will start with large cups, and by 2023 all drink cups in the US and Canada will use recycled plastic.

“[Volumes] will grow exponentially. Wendy’s has a goal to translate this across their entire cup set and we wholly expect to be partnered with them to do just that,” said Tom Salmon, CEO of Berry Global, in an interview with ICIS.

In the first two years, volumes of chemically recycled polypropylene (PP) going into the cups will amount to around 10m lb (4,536 tonnes), which means a greater amount of waste plastics are being diverted from landfills, he noted.

Berry Global's thermoformed cups made with recycled content for Wendy's. Source: Berry Global

SOURCED FROM LYONDELLBASELL LAKE CHARLES SITE
Berry is sourcing chemically recycled (also called advanced recycled) polypropylene (PP) from LyondellBasell’s Lake Charles, Louisiana facility, the CEO said.

Berry has secured around 300m lb/year of chemically recycled plastics by 2025, along with about 300m lb/year of mechanically recycled plastics worldwide, the latter mostly in the UK and Europe, he noted.

“Frankly it’s a bold move for Berry. We’re making commitments to a technology, and then we’re going out and securing demand. It’s somewhat counter to how we do it on things like capital expenditures … in that we try to customer-link everything that we do for a capital investment,” said Salmon.

Essentially Berry is often securing access to recycled plastics well before it sells the converted packaging end products to brand owners.

Berry sees itself as an enabler of sustainability solutions for end customers using its design expertise – a key part of its growth strategy, the CEO said.

“This is unique. We’re that strong a believer that this is a critical element for the world to achieve net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050. And it’s not going to be one solution that solves the problem,” said Salmon.

“But in terms of addressing plastic waste and making a big impact, we think advanced recycling goes a long way to doing that, and will become more viable as the demand is further created,” he added.

ENCOURAGING USE AMONG RESTAURANTS
Wendy’s adopting chemically recycled plastics for drink cups will likely encourage other quick service restaurants (QSRs) to do the same, the CEO said.

Clearly more recycled plastics are needed for brand owners to reach their sustainability goals. Wendy’s has a goal of sustainably sourcing 100% of its customer-facing packaging by 2026.

The initial 20% level of recycled material into the cups is a function of availability.

“It’s the amount of recycled content available and as we can demonstrate more successes, it’s an opportunity for us to show both the operational and environmental benefits of advanced recycling,” said Salmon.

“And that ultimately helps pave a viable path forward to operationalise at scale,” he added.

BEYOND FOOD PACKAGING
Berry is taking recycled plastics beyond food packaging. The company is expanding its Plasgran recycling site in the UK, which came with its $6.5bn acquisition of RPC Group in July 2019. The site makes Berry’s Plaswood branded recycled plastic furniture and lumber.

In December 2020, McDonald’s announced the UK’s first playground made from recycled McDonald’s Happy Meal toys processed by Berry.

“One of the benefits for us as a global company is that we can learn from these types of capital expenditures and translate them to successes in other geographies. And so with the Plasgran site which we’re expanding right now, we’ll look to measure its success and effectiveness in how translatable it is to markets like the US,” said Salmon.

“The commitment to and around sustainability is real. [Companies] all have specific targets they’ve communicated and that they’re investing capex against, and they’re looking to companies like Berry that can help educate them and enable them to meet those sustainability goals and objectives,” he added.

Berry is likewise committed to accelerating the demand for recycled plastics. It aspires to have 100% of its plastics products circular.

“We’re proud of the progress. It can always be faster, and we’re going to do our part to drive that demand because we clearly believe that is a clear path forward, to help operationalise these types of technologies at scale,” said Salmon.

Interview article by Joseph Chang

Thumbnail shows Tom Salmon, CEO of Berry Global. Photo by Berry

(adds details about mass balance and which countries will use the new cups, paragraph 2)