A bottle’s journey
What’s one bottle anyway? It’ll get swallowed up by the forest, it’s not bothering anyone and someone will pick it up some day. This may have been the way that people used to think. Maybe some of us still do. But here’s the thing: foreign objects have no place in nature. And they may not necessarily be cleared away by anyone, ever. Or not for quite some time, at least.
A plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose, and when we get to glass bottles, it’s more like a million years. The journey of glass is practically unending. Only its physical state and purpose of use may change along the way. And that’s a good thing: the fact that three thousand wine bottles can be used to produce the glass wool insulation of a detached house, for instance, is a pleasant thought.
The new life of a glass or plastic bottle begins with a clunk in the bowels of a reverse vending machine. What happens next, though?
Recycled glass bottles are crushed, cleaned and sorted according to their colour. After that, they are reused in the production of glass wool or glass packaging, for example. Refillable glass bottles, on the other hand, are first rinsed and washed. This is followed by filling, capping and labelling. And soon they will have found their way back to stores and restaurants.
There is reason to be proud. The return rate of all bottles in Finland is among the highest in the world. All in all, 93 per cent of deposit bottles are returned. But the statistics also reveal room for improvement. The imperfection is particularly prominent in terms of small plastic deposit bottles.
Some 460 million plastic deposit bottles are returned in Finland every year. An impressive figure. Even so, sales indicate that approximately one out of every ten plastic bottle fails to find its way to a reverse vending machine. Unfortunately, the return rate is particularly low among small plastic bottles: several million bottles no larger than 35 cl get lost on the way – despite being deposit bottles.
Why is this? Altia decided to put this question to roughly a thousand adults in May 2019. Their responses revealed at least two things which drew our attention.
First of all, it turned out that people are unsure whether all types of bottles can be returned, especially so if the bottle is of foreign origin. The most common type of bottle which finds itself unreturned is the size of a hip flask.
Secondly, people get on the road during festive seasons in the spring, summer and at Christmas. While small PET bottles make for convenient company, they are also easily forgotten by the side of the road.
The results warrant some action. Let’s make it our common goal to raise the recycling rate of all bottles – particularly the small ones which are easy to carry along.
The cellars of summer cottages harbour glass and plastic bottles from bygone days. Some of them are given a new life as a candleholder or flower vase, but what to do with the others?
The basic rules are clear. Cans, plastic bottles and some glass bottles have a marking that identifies them as deposit bottles. If there is no deposit marking, you can check whether a glass bottle can be returned from the receipt or a shelf label.
Glass and plastic deposit bottles (and metal cans) can be returned to reverse vending machines. The babies of the bottle family – glass and plastic alike – should also tag along. You shouldn’t leave them lying around, because the conveyor belt is just as fond of them as it is of other bottles. You will also receive a deposit for them, although only for bottles which are included in the Finnish recycling scheme. So no scratching! The machine identifies a deposit bottle from the bar code on its label. This must therefore be present and intact. You will receive the receipt for your bottles from the machine you return them to.
Glass bottles with no deposit, both coloured and clear, should be taken to recycled glass containers. There is no need to sort them, just throw them in. The caps or corks do need to be removed, but the labels, metal skirts and any other fixed parts can remain where they are. Plastic bottles with no deposit, on the other hand, belong in plastic recycling or mixed waste.
Clear plastic bottles are reborn as, say, raincoats, whereas the coloured ones can be met once again in the form of items such as rucksacks or ties. There is no need to remove plastic caps, given that they are also recycled. And while most glass bottles are used for new bottles, some of the material can even end up in aerated concrete.
Heading out for a hike, to the beach or a festival – but with a heavy rucksack? The solution is often polyethylene terephthalate, or PET in short, a plastic packaging material with a good tolerance for loads and alcoholic beverages.
PET bottles not only conserve the strength of their carrier, but the environment as well. Thanks to their light weight, which is a mere tenth of an ordinary glass bottle, transports save energy. And thanks to their manufacturing process and recyclability, the carbon footprint of PET bottles is up to 70 per cent smaller than that of glass bottles.
The plastic in returned PET bottles can be reused in the production of new bottles. And none of the plastic components are dissolved into the bottle’s contents, contrary to what studies indicate has happened with other types of plastic.
The plastic materials used by Altia have been selected according to the storage life requirements of the packaged content, taking into consideration production equipment as well as recycling and environmental issues. The plastic materials in the bottles have been approved for contact with foodstuffs which, in practice, means that they are carefully controlled, starting from their source materials. For now, PET bottles are made from virgin raw materials. The main raw materials consist of the by-products of oil distillation.
The proportion of PET plastic in Altia’s packages has grown. With a nearly 40 per cent share, it is already the second largest type in our packaging portfolio. The growth in its use is based on customer wishes, the recyclability and lightness of the bottles, the possibilities offered by the raw material, innovations and a reduction of Altia’s carbon footprint.
Altia wants to be a responsible operator in measures involving package development, recycling and increasingly efficient recycling. Indeed, Altia aims to develop packages from the perspective of sustainability. We achieve this by, among other things, improving recyclability and reducing our carbon footprint with the help of lighter packages and by making use of renewable sources of raw materials in packages.
Altia invests heavily in product development and life-cycle thinking. The company’s efforts in sustainable packaging design and innovations are especially pioneering.
Altia bottles up to 70 million litres of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages a year. The packages account for everything from consumer trends to sustainability, and from recyclability to emission reductions. The targets are achieved with the help of our subcontractors, such as the machine suppliers selected to manufacture bottles and the suppliers of packaging materials.
Good packaging design can achieve substantial reductions in waste and carbon dioxide emissions. Alternative, and lighter, materials are used to an increasing degree. Altia aims to reduce the weight of glass bottles, and the current ones are up to 25 per cent lighter than older ones. This reduces the carbon footprint resulting from the bottles’ manufacturing and transport to a significant degree.
In plastic packages, we aim to use only consumer packages made from the same packaging material, which facilitates sorting and the material’s reuse. The use of PET bottles, which can be recycled together with their corks, has grown markedly over the past few years.
The carbon footprint of a PET bottle can be up to 70 per cent smaller than that of a glass bottle with an equal volume. The recycling rate of all PET bottles in Finland, Sweden and Norway is, on average, as high as 90 per cent. The recycling rates of small bottles should also be increased to corresponding figures, given that their return rates are modest in comparison to other packaging sizes.
PET plastic packages account for roughly 40 per cent of Altia’s consumer packages. The beverage in them is good for up to at least a year or so, which is plenty for all of the products and product categories.
We also use bag-in-boxes and Tetrapacks alongside glass and PET bottles. The carbon footprint of Tetrapacks is considerably smaller than that of other packaging forms. Their share of all packages is indeed expected to grow in the years to come.
Altia was presented with the 2018 Green Company of the Year award in the renowned The Drinks Business Green Awards competition in London.
The competition, organised every year since 2010, increases the beverage industry’s awareness of environmental issues. The awarded companies are trailblazers of sustainability and environmental responsibility, aiming to develop their business to reduce their carbon footprint. The competition is organised by The Drinks Business magazine.
Altia’s key environmental goals focus on energy and water consumption as well as waste management. The company recycles or recovers 99.5 per cent of its waste, and up to 99.9 per cent of it at the Koskenkorva plant. Altia’s Green Company of the Year award was indeed largely a result of the bioeconomy and circular economy achievements of the Koskenkorva plant.
The Koskenkorva distillery uses 100 per cent of the barley it purchases. The barley hulls not needed in the plant’s production are incinerated in the distillery’s own biopower plant, which produces steam energy for the distilling process.
Thanks to the biopower plant, the carbon dioxide emissions of the Koskenkorva plant have decreased by more than 50 per cent since 2014. The plant’s fuel self-sufficiency in the production of steam energy has grown to approximately 60 per cent.
In addition to grain spirit, the Koskenkorva plant produces starch and raw material for animal feed. The carbon dioxide generated in the fermentation process is used in greenhouse cultivation, for example.
Altia protects the pure Rajamäki groundwater – its other key ingredient besides barley – through the ownership and protection of groundwater areas and by restricting construction in the Rajamäki groundwater area.
The environmental impact of packages is also reduced through measures such as reducing the weight of glass bottles, increasing the use of PET bottles and avoiding over-packaging.