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A world without waste: Achieving transformative environmental change

A world without waste: Achieving transformative environmental change

The need for a sustainable economy has become even more critical as global trends are changing. These trends are accompanied by changing consumption patterns, leading to an increase in the volume of waste generated. In Africa, various initiatives are being carried out to explore the potential of utilizing waste as a driver for socio-economic development, leading to sustainable green development.

The recently published Global Circularity Gap Report 2023 revealed a concerning fact: the global economy operates at a mere 7.2 percent circularity level. This signifies that only 7.2 percent of the materials employed worldwide are derived from secondary sources or recycled materials. Unfortunately, we are rapidly using up our natural resources, with the wrong assumption that they will always be available.

To maintain a competitive edge in today’s economy and achieve maximum efficiency, there is an urgent need for organisations to enhance their ability to understand the market, customers, and environmental factors to adopt sustainable practices. It is important to note however that the increasing environmental concerns have compelled several organisations to increase their efforts in evaluating environmental performance.

These companies are recognising the necessity of taking a more comprehensive approach towards sustainability and this entails implementing measures not only at the executive level but also at the operational level. Notably, actions carried out at the frontline can wield significant influence, propelling an organisation approximately one-third of the way towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions according to this report.

This is why we, at the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), Nigeria’s leading consumer packaged goods company and a member of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (CCHBC), have made significant strides in environmental sustainability by executing several projects and initiatives. For example, the “perform right-weighting program”. We have consistently eliminated approximately 1,400 MT of plastics from our supply chain annually.

This proactive measure has contributed to substantially reducing our plastic footprint as well as greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, showcasing NBC’s commitment to mitigating its environmental impact.

The environmental impact of product packaging continues to grow, underscoring the importance of developing innovative techniques to enhance and promote package circularity while minimising the materials required.

As a foundation for circular plastic, firstly NBC aims to promote the habit of responsible consumption through waste sorting, separation and collection for recycling by the general public.

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To do that, we invest in awareness campaigns and collaboration with relevant partners such as the University of Lagos Green Eco Hub to help people understand what to recycle, how to recycle, and where to recycle. We believe in the circular economy, where plastic, glass, and aluminium can be reused multiple times rather than thrown away to become waste.

Secondly, plastics recyclability is very key to its circularity hence NBC has ensured all its primary packaging materials especially plastics are 100 percent recyclable. To further demonstrate this commitment, at NBC, we migrated the Sprite Clear Bottle from green to a clear bottle, thus not only achieving 100 percent recyclability but also improving the recycling application opportunities. Furthermore, we have invested over 5.8m Euro in packaging innovation/CO2 emissions reduction projects to date. These packaging innovation efforts have resulted in over 7,500 MT of CO2 emission reduction since 2020 to date.

Without a radical change in behaviours, plastic pollution is expected to triple by 2050 and account for 19 percent of global CO2 emissions. In Africa, where 165m tons of plastic will reach its end of life in the next ten years, this pollution comes with a considerable economic and social cost.

This is why NBC’s sustainability actions towards achieving ‘A Safer Environment’ through investments in plastic packaging collection, recycling interventions and innovative packaging, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and increase of water security are well-deserving of accolades.

This commitment also earned NBC numerous accolades at the Environmental Sustainability Conference, Expo, and Awards (ECOSEA), organised by Impact Reports Africa and Brand Communicator, where NBC reiterated that its commitment to environmental sustainability is not just a one-time effort but a long-term commitment.

In 2022, the Nigerian Bottling Company in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company invested 196.4 million Naira through the Food & Beverage Industry Association Producers Responsibility Organisation (FBRA) to increase post-consumer packaging collection in line with its global commitment to collect 1 bottle for every bottle it puts in the market by 2030.

As a result, the Coca-Cola system has recovered 23,948 tons of PET, equivalent to approximately 1.1 billion bottles, through FBRA collection from 2020 to date. This initiative has led to a reduction of 26,600 MT of CO2 emissions in addition to other emission avoidance initiatives.

Together with the Coca-Cola Company, we have also established over 22 community recycling banks across Nigeria, engaging more than 2000 women and youths, and recovered 2,700 tons of PET, approximately 123 million bottles, in 2022 through our directly funded projects.

The private sector is at the forefront of transitioning to a circular economy, which could create 700,000 jobs and nearly $4.5 trillion in direct and indirect savings globally by 2040. Industrialisation today principally involves the lateral expansion of production scope as a country and extending capabilities from one value chain to an adjacent one by building general innovation capacity.

This is why at NBC, we understand the power of strategic partnerships and have partnered with several tertiary institutions and communities to drive and increase advocacy and encourage recycling habits. As a result, we have reaffirmed our unwavering commitment to a ‘World Without Waste’ through sustainable plastic and waste management by consistently hosting plastic collection and recycling awareness campaigns with partners and employees.

This year’s campaign was in accordance with the theme, “Solutions to Plastic Pollution”, and align with NBC’s proactive measures, which continue to highlight the immense socio-economic and environmental opportunities in plastic circularity via the plastic collection and recycling sector. It has also created economic empowerment and social equity for thousands of women and youth while supporting several United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It must be acknowledged that the transition to a circular plastics economy is complex because direct and indirect costs are involved as opposed to a traditional and linear business-as-usual scenario. This will require infrastructural investment at scale by both the industry and the Government, responsible consumption by the public via behavioural changes to waste management processed and the creation of enabling policies and framework that supports entrepreneurial investments in the circular economy for sustainability.

It is within this context that NBC is partnering with social enterprises and organisations, with a focus on the circular economy to deal with plastic waste and continue to contribute towards improving Nigeria’s environmental sustainability performance.

While those are steps in the right direction, we don’t intend to stop there. We’re constantly searching for new ways to make plastic more innovative and sustainable and are working to include more recycled material in our plastic bottles. More importantly, we call on all relevant stakeholders to play their part in closing the plastics loop in the best interest of everyone and our beloved planet.

Seun Adekoya is a writer and journalist based in Lagos.