Massimo Casella is the head of Research and Development at Nestlé Waters. When interviewing hundreds of people around the world about plastic, many talked about glass, saying that it was probably a better material. We showed Casella a selection of these testimonies and then asked him to comment and give us keys to understanding the complex topic of plastics. The video shows a selection of his answers, and you can read his full interview below.
20 Questions About Water: What is your first reaction to these testimonies?
Massimo Casella: What caught my attention in the video is that people believe that glass is healthier and safer than plastic. Actually, either container is safe. PET, plastic and glass all preserve the naturality of water.
20QAW: When did the switch from glass to plastic happen, and why?
M.C.: I don’t know exactly how many years ago, but like some people said in the video it happened for convenience reasons. People consume water on the go, when they work, when they go for a ride, or a walk, and glass is heavy. Plastic is definitely more convenient. It also happened because of the weight, and glass is highly breakable, so it was a safety hazard for the consumer.
20QAW: How far glass and plastic are recycled today?
M.C.: In terms of recyclability, people are more used to recycle glass because it has been longer on the market. They do understand the point of recycling glass and are more willing to do it. As for plastic, it varies a lot from country to country. There are some countries where there is great awareness due to education or the authorities. Some countries even introduced deposit systems, so people are encouraged to bring back the plastic to get their deposit back. This is of course a very good solution for the industry. In some other countries, unfortunately consumers lack this perception and awareness that plastic bottles should be recycled.
“Raising awareness on that subject pushes everyone, including us, to improve plastic collection and recycling”
20QAW: How efficient are the recycling processes?
M.C.: So far, the recycling of plastic is still in development, meaning that we are developing quite a lot of suppliers to recycle plastics.
There are two different types of recycling; one is mechanical, which consists in washing the bottle, grinding it and reusing the flakes, so it’s a rather straightforward form of recycling.
The other one is chemical; some plastic recyclers take lower quality PET and chemically split the bottle back to its raw elements. Then they use these raw elements again to create a new very high-quality PET, back to its virgin-level quality.
Recycling glass is a little bit more challenging. It requires melting down the glass at a very high temperature which is a very energy-intensive process with an important carbon footprint.
20QAW: Why is plastic so heavily criticised today?
M.C.: Plastic is heavily criticised because of some news and findings about ocean pollution. What is true is that in some parts of the world there is no systematic recycling of plastic bottles. With no control on where the bottles end up, it may end up in the ocean and on beaches. I don’t wish to specify where exactly, but it’s clearly not evenly distributed throughout the world. So it’s more visible in some areas than others.
It is about that particular issue that some NGOs have brought up the attention and I guess it is a very good thing. Raising awareness on that subject pushes everyone, including us, to improve plastic collection and recycling.
“We are really willing to collect as much PET bottles as possible to reuse them and to create new bottles”
20QAW: What is the role of large companies like Nestlé Waters in this regard?
M.C.: Our role is to provide safe water to the consumer and we believe as of today that plastic and PET are a good solution in terms of convenience and quality. We are now working on improving plastic collection, and we are really willing to collect as much PET bottles as possible to reuse them to create new bottles. These are the principles of circular economy. As I said before, unfortunately not all countries are well equipped for that, so we are very much promoting recycling and reusing PET. This way an empty bottle is still valuable, and we should preserve that value to put it back into the industry.
“We are developing plastic made out of natural resources”
20QAW: How do you imagine the future of water containers a hundred years from now?
M.C.: We are studying what could be the bottle of the future. At the moment, we are developing plastic made out of natural resources. We are working with a start-up in the United States that extracts raw material of the PET from wood and used cardboards. Thanks to their technology we can avoid using any fossil fuels in the composition of plastics. We then want to achieve the circular model through collection, relying on consumers’ increased awareness that PET bottles need to be recycled. We are of course studying some alternative containers, which can help us controlling or at least maintaining the level of plastic production instead of increasing it. We are for example developing dispensing machines that bring water closer to the consumer, which they can get their water from.