Shawn Welch, Vice President and CEO of Hi-Cone

1, September, 2020

"The environmental impact of RingCycles ™ is less than that of cardboard"

Hi-Cone was created in the 60s with the intention of providing a solution to the problem of deforestation and the increase in the emission of greenhouse gases, which was already a social problem at that time. For that reason, they developed a packaging that managed to use the least amount of material possible and, therefore, had a lower environmental impact. Since then, we have become the leading company in supplying this type of solution, having managed to develop rings with more than 50% recycled material.

In how many countries are they present? What is your position in Spain?

Hi-Cone currently has two factories in the United States, one in Mexico, and one in Spain. From the plant located in La Garriga (Barcelona), it is distributed throughout Europe, part of Africa and Asia.

Since we arrived in Spain in the eighties, we have closely followed the Spanish market, both internally and in its relationship with other European countries and aligning ourselves with the objectives of the EU to achieve sustainable development. As of today, Hi-Cone has already joined this paradigm shift with which this new decade begins, concerned about the sustainability and social impact of companies.

The climate crisis situation is a matter of paramount importance for the industry, that is why we are improving and innovating both our product portfolio and the way we manufacture them, in order to offer more sustainable solutions. One way to achieve this, in addition to the new RingCycles ™ rings, made from more than 50% post-consumer recycled material, is to continue advancing the circular economy. In Spain our product can be easily recycled in yellow containers, but in places where that is not possible, we look for alliances, as we have done with TerraCycle® in the United Kingdom. On our way to a circular economy, we have also witnessed advancements in the markets in which we are present and we welcome the steps that many in the industry are now taking. We can only have a truly positive impact on sustainability and stop the climate crisis if we all work together.

What sectors do they work for? Just for drinks?

Hi-Cone is the leading provider of plastic ring grouping systems for the global canned beverage industry. We are pleased to be able to offer the industry a sustainable way to package their products and ensure easy transport from cans to shelves. Consumers can easily pick up four to six cans with one hand and carry them with them to enjoy, without the risk of the cans falling over and without the need to carry them with both hands.

Why did you decide to produce an Annual Report on the State of Plastics Recycling?

Faced with the urgent global need to develop and implement more sustainable business models, we realized that manufacturers and consumers are in a certain way “disconnected”. This report aims to identify the challenges, and also the opportunities for the industry to improve plastics recycling as sustainability plays a bigger role and drives change. Only by knowing consumer input, national programs, and global goals can we make real progress. The survey results showed that consumers had some gaps when it came to understanding recycling practices. While most consumers want to recycle more, many are disoriented and feel they need more information. According to the study, 80% of those surveyed recognized that if they had more information or facilities, they would recycle more. Whether it's here in Spain, in the UK, or across the ocean in the US or Mexico, the general trend remains the same. This has become an incentive to do more and we have started our program to help consumers improve their understanding of recycling.

Do you think that the consumer needs more information to change the negative image of plastic compared to other materials?

Definitely. Access to objective information is necessary so that both consumers and producers can make decisions with the necessary information. Any type of container will require a thorough analysis of the product's Life Cycle and the existing recycling infrastructure in the markets in which it will be used. In fact, a study by Franklin Associates whose results are included in the report show that a small amount of plastic can be a more sustainable option than other materials. Among other reasons because it requires 73% less water to manufacture than cardboard alternatives, which represents a clear saving. Whereas, thanks to the study carried out by the Grantham Center for the Sustainable Future of the University of Sheffield, we can show that, if we replaced plastic packaging with cardboard alternatives, the weight of the packaging would increase 3,6 times, the energy consumption it would increase 2,2 times and carbon dioxide emissions would increase by 2,7%.

Is plastic a sustainable material? Why?

One thing is the material and another is the use we make of it. Plastic has allowed society great advances in recent decades, both medical and energy saving thanks to the reduction of the weight of cars and airplanes, etc. As seen in many studies, less plastic can often replace more other materials, impacting in many ways, from carbon emissions to end-of-life waste.

The problem lies in the lack of knowledge and misinformation that exists about how to recycle plastic. The survey that YouGov carried out for our report, from a sample of 5.500 people from four countries: Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain, revealed that 60% of all adults surveyed do not know how to recycle according to what kind of plastics. While 82% of Spaniards acknowledged not recycling as much plastic as they should.

We have to stop thinking of plastic as waste and start seeing it as a renewable resource that must be disposed of properly. Plastic is necessary, something that during the Coronavirus crisis has been highlighted by its importance, especially in the health sector. But, as I said before, you have to be responsible and recycle it well. We are witnessing a promising change in the industry, where many agents - such as Hi-Cone - are beginning to provide resources to consumers so they can learn more and make their own decisions. For their part, younger generations show a greater concern for the environment, which is a wonderful thing.

Why are they more sustainable than cardboard rings?

The same principles of minimal use of virgin material apply in the packaging industry. For the report, Franklin Associates, an environmental consultancy expert in Product Life Cycle analysis, produced a study that showed that, compared to six-packs of cardboard, RingCycles ™ require 90% less energy, 73 % less water and generate 86% less solid waste.

The study shows that the environmental impact of RingCycles ™ (made with more than 50% post-consumer recycled material) is lower than that of cardboard. The new Hi-Cone rings launched on the market in 2019, emit 73% less greenhouse gases. 90% less energy is consumed during manufacture and use of RingCycles ™ than cardboard six-packs. These, on the other hand, require 3,8 times more water to manufacture and generate 6,9 times more solid waste during the life cycle process. Some data that is also endorsed by the Grantham Center for the Sustainable Future of the University of Sheffield, as I have commented previously.

Last year they launched RingCycles, plastic rings with 50% post-consumer recycled content. What response have you got? Could they be done with 100% PCR content?

At Hi-Cone we invest heavily in research to continue developing the most sustainable and commercially viable solutions on the market. Our main objective is that by the beginning of 2021 all our customers have the new RingCycles ™ rings in their product portfolio ( Meanwhile, we continue working to offer a 100% recyclable, biodegradable or compostable alternative by 2025.

Hi-Cone supports various initiatives such as TerraCycle®, how and why?

Not all countries have a recycling infrastructure as efficient as Spain, which in many only accept a very limited range of materials. This was one of the main reasons we introduced and developed these initiatives. Now more than ever the packaging industry is committed to reducing its environmental impact and acting in a responsible manner. This implies having an adequate recycling infrastructure, which is why at Hi-Cone we are investing in programs to increase the global recovery rates of the rings where such adequate infrastructure may not exist.

For that reason, in the UK we are committed to an alliance with TerraCycle®, a specialist recycling company, as well as other retail and supply chain partners to raise awareness that plastic rings can be recycled. For example, UK consumers can simply visit, download a free postage label and send the rings to TerraCycle® by post.

How has the current crisis due to Covid-19 affected them?

Throughout this pandemic, the safety and well-being of our employees, customers and partners has been the highest priority. For example, we have donated all the safety glasses available in some of our factories to local medical personnel when supplies were needed. On the other hand, our employees have been able to continue working from home to minimize the risks to their health. All this without losing sight of our commitment to sustainability and the circular economy.

What are your objectives for this second half of the year, both globally and in Spain?

Our primary goal is to help customers complete the transition to the new RingCycles ™ product. Although this is our main objective, it is not the only one. Our commitment also goes through informing consumers in Spain to throw the Hi-Cone rings into the yellow recycling container and create an important commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. There is clearly a great need to create a more transparent process and clear guidance for consumers when it comes to developing a circular economy and recycling best practices.

Hi-Cone's global sustainability goals include increasing investment in resource and materials research, significantly minimizing the amount of plastic used, increasing recycling efforts, and educating consumers to support an economy circulate recycling properly, so the reuse of the collected plastic rings will guarantee zero plastic waste.

Do you have any launch planned?

There are many exciting innovations in our project, but right now we are focused on helping customers complete the switch to RingCycles ™ while helping consumers understand recycling and recycle more.


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