Plans To Rethink Our Packaging, Today
At Mars, we believe the world we want tomorrow, starts with how we do business today. That’s why today, we’re rethinking our approach to packaging, because we believe there is no such thing as a sustainable product in unsustainable packaging.
We’re proud of our products, but deeply concerned about the impact of packaging waste on land and in the ocean.
Many of our products are wrapped in plastic packaging and most of this packaging is not recycled. This is unacceptable and we are committed to addressing this, even if it means redesigning much of our packaging or our business models.
Why packaging matters
Packaging plays many important roles in ensuring our products meet the highest quality and food safety standards. It protects ingredients as they move from farms to factories and finished products as they move to store shelves and finally to consumers.
Packaging helps preserve the freshness of our products and provides consumers with helpful information such as nutrition information and portion guidance. It also offers convenience and helps differentiate our brands. We need to maintain all these benefits while also finding a way to make sure our packaging can be part of a circular economy.
The challenges with today’s packaging
Any company embarking on a journey where no packaging becomes waste must reevaluate their whole packaging system. But for a company with such a diverse portfolio of products as Mars, the challenge to deliver a whole new suite of packaging solutions is even more complex.
Given the diversity of not only the materials we use but of our product lines – from pet food to ready-made rice to our confectionery brands – each of our packages requires its own set of safety considerations.
The paper, metal, plastic and glass that we use to package our pet food, sauces and chocolate products can often be recycled where infrastructure exists; but flexible plastic packages are recycled far less and, in some cases, not at all. We use a great deal of flexible plastic packaging in formats ranging from large dog food bags to ready-to-heat rice pouches to small packages of candy or gum. Most of these types of packs end up in incineration and landfills, but some are littered or can escape waste management systems and find their way into the ocean.
To successfully deliver the redesigned packaging portfolio that our business wants, and our consumers, Associates, and partners demand means navigating a complex landscape. How different packaging materials and formats work within recycling systems varies from market to market. That means we need to test different solutions in different geographies to understand how various recycling systems handle these new packaging designs.
All of this takes significant time and investment, as well as a thoughtful, multi-stakeholder approach with other industry leaders, innovators, and non-profit partners. And we’re up to the task.
So what are we doing about it?
|2025 Sustainable Plastic Packaging Plans|
|100% of our plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable*|
|25% reduction in virgin plastic use**|
|10 reuse programs that test new business models|
|30% average recycled content in our plastic packaging**|
|Recycling guidance for consumers in all major markets|
|Eliminate PVC (2020)|
*per EMF definitions
**Target dependent on advancement of chemical recycling at pace and scale & alignment of food safety regulations
Mars is a core partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) New Plastic Economy initiative and a signatory of its Global Commitment to eliminate plastic waste and pollution at its source. Our vision is aligned with EMF, to support a circular economy where packaging never becomes waste.
To advance towards this vision, by 2025 we plan to reduce our virgin plastic use by 25% and for 100% of our plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
“Mars is committed to being a part of the transformational system change that this issue requires. We’re taking action by removing packaging we don’t need, exploring reuse models, redesigning what we do need for circularity, and investing to close the packaging waste loop with recycling systems that work for business and communities. We all have much to do, so we must work together as a global community like never before.” — Grant F. Reid, CEO
We’re therefore rethinking our approach to packaging by 1) reducing packaging that we don’t need; 2) redesigning the packaging that we do need for circularity; and 3) investing to close the loop.
1. Reducing packaging that we don’t need
For years, we’ve been focused on light-weighting packaging materials of all types, including plastics. We’ll keep at that while also looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary layers of plastics and other materials in secondary and tertiary packaging. For example, in China we removed 40% of the weight from our gum bottles between 2015 and 2018.
We also will reduce our packaging use by shifting to reuse models, where possible. We’re exploring innovative reuse models with a plan to have at least 10 new reuse programs in markets by 2025. Adopting reuse models helps prevent single-use plastics from getting into the market in the first place. These include our partnership with Loop, an e-commerce shopping platform that delivers “PerfectFit” pet food in durable packaging that, once all the product is consumed, is collected and refilled for future reuse. It also includes bulk sales options like M&M Colorworks in grocery stores.
2. Redesigning the packaging that we do need for circularity
In 2017, we were one of the first companies in our industry to commit to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. Today, 26% of our plastic packaging is recyclable in practice and at scale. Even more is technically recyclable but unfortunately the infrastructure hasn’t yet scaled. However, we clearly have more work to do.
We’re evaluating all our packaging formats and rethinking the design so it can be recycled and reused. This includes replacing hard-to-recycle packaging formats, such as those that use multiple materials into a single material packaging format. For example, we’ve removed the polystyrene window from BEN’S ORIGINAL™ rice cartons, making them fully recyclable cardboard, in 13 markets. And in France, we launched an M&M’s® pouch which was designed to be recyclable by reducing the multiple layers of packaging required for production to one single layer.
We’re looking for ways to replace plastics with other materials like paper that are more recyclable. This paper-based packaging will be 100% sourced from certified, verified or recycled sources. In 2019, for example, we launched a MALTESERS® Truffle Treat package in the U.K. market, replacing the plastic wrapper and carton tray with a cardboard solution that is fully recyclable. Even displays are important, as with the redesigned display cases for our WHISKAS® cat treat pots, which eliminated 76 tons of plastic.
We’re also eliminating the use of problematic materials such as PVC across all packaging formats, and have made great progress. We have removed nearly 3,000 tons of PVC packaging from our business and PVC now represents less than 0.5% of our portfolio. We are working hard to remove the remaining very small volumes by 2021.
The Mars Advanced Research Institute (MARI) is exploring the development of new materials that ensure food safety and functionality for consumers, while also enabling a circular economy. This includes research into biodegradable and compostable packaging materials within our portfolio, such as the compostable wrapper for vegan GALAXY® bars launched in the U.K. Through MARI, we are also part of the Corporate Compost Leadership Council and the Redefining Flexible Films initiative.
Our efforts to reduce and redesign are significant shifts that will require a transformation for many of our packs.
3. Investing to close the loop
Even when a package is designed to be recyclable, reusable or compostable, it won’t be without the right consumer behaviors, collection, sorting systems and infrastructure. Today, valuable materials are being thrown away every day in every market around the world. To advance a future where packaging never becomes waste, we need the recycling and regulatory environment to evolve in significant ways.
To help catalyze recycling systems we plan to use 30% recycled content on average across our plastic packaging portfolio by 2025. By purchasing recycled content, we are encouraging investment in recycling systems. This closes the loop, taking the output from recycling systems and putting it back into our packaging.
We will further incentivize recycling systems by supporting increased investment in and evolution of well-designed Extended Producer Responsibility programs or other schemes. Working together with other businesses, community and government partners, will ensure high levels of collection, sorting and recycling of packaging.
Today, only mechanical recycling exists at scale for paper, glass, metal and rigid plastics – and it’s only available in certain markets. We need innovative recycling technologies in place to enable the recycling and reuse of flexible plastics. Mars is working to encourage the wider business community to invest in and advocate for such technologies through groups like the Consumer Goods Forum – where we co-chair the Plastic Waste Coalition of Action – as well as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Circular Plastics Alliance, the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, the US Plastics Pact, and others. Advanced recycling is one more potential solution to recycle flexible plastic packaging, referring to a suite of processes that break down the plastic and bring it back to the building blocks that make up new plastic or other useful materials. Advanced recycling is the only recycling solution to date that can deliver food-safe recycled content for our flexible plastic packages. If it can be deployed responsibly and at scale, we’ll be able to recycle our flexible plastic packaging, increase the use of recycled content in our flexible plastic packaging and reduce our use of virgin plastics. In 2020, Mars partnered with SABIC to provide recycled plastic content through Advanced recycled systems which will be incorporated into the primary packaging for some of our most popular pet food brands. This recycled content will be piloted in Europe, with plans to increase volume into 2021 and expand the use of recycled content to other brands.
A circular economy requires a scale-up of multiple reuse and recycling systems. Mechanical, advanced and organic recycling will all play a role in building a circular economy and ending packaging waste. Ideally, every market will have harmonized collection, advanced sorting systems, and access to mechanical, advanced and organic recycling facilities to circulate all forms of packaging material and formats, as well as scaled Reuse models where appropriate.
Inspiring Associates and consumers to recycle
To close the loop, we also need consumers to be part of the solution. Mars will continue to engage consumers with recycling guidance to help them make decisions about what to do with the packaging once they’ve enjoyed the product. We aim to have this guidance reach all major markets where our products are available by 2025. This guidance will be a mix of on-pack labelling and corporate and brand communication. We also will partner with our peers and industry groups to encourage clarity in labelling and communications.
In the U.K., Mars is already the largest corporate investor in anti-littering education programs, and we’ll continue these investments. We sponsor Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, which aims to engage as many people as possible to pick-up litter in their local area. We also support the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Keep It, Bin It national anti-littering campaign. This initiative seeks to make littering culturally unacceptable within a generation, by focusing on encouraging behavior change with young people.
By reducing the packaging, we don’t need, redesigning the packaging we do need, and investing to close the loop, we believe we can help build a circular economy where packaging never becomes waste.
More from Mars
News & Stories  • April 7th, 2021