Leading the Way Towards a Plastic-Free Future

by John Burke, CMO at Bacardi
Nov 10, 2020 11:00 AM ET

Originally published on LinkedIn

At Bacardi, we’re sick of plastic – so we’ve swapped crude oil for seed oil to create the world’s most sustainable spirits bottle.

A lot of what you hear from brands about ‘sustainability’ sounds lofty but also vague. The word itself has been (somewhat ironically) polluted by fuzzy adverts that promise a better world yet deliver nothing concrete.  

Consumers are smart. To satisfy their desire for sustainable products, you have to do something tangible. 

Nearly 3/4 of shoppers say they’re willing to change what they buy to reduce their impact on the environment. Naysayers have argued that consumers don’t actually buy sustainable products – even though they say they want to. But this argument doesn’t hold water. In fact, sustainable products are growing 5.6 times faster than their counterparts.

Consumers are increasingly demanding that brands take sustainability seriously. To answer this call, companies have to fundamentally change how they do business. It’s what consumers want – and, more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.  

Which is why at Bacardi, we've been committed to reducing our impact on the environment for the past 15 years. A lot of our effort predates our competitors and came largely before media interest in the topic. In fact, in the alcoholic beverage space, we have the best track record in terms of water consumption and carbon reduction.  

But this year, I’m excited to announce that we’ve made yet another big leap towards eliminating single-use plastic.  

The last straw  

First, in the interest of clarity, I’d like to state the problem in no uncertain terms.  

In the UK alone, we throw away 4.4 billion straws every year. 

So, we at Bacardi decided to effectively eliminate 1 billion of them from the planet.  

Back in 2016, we launched our #NoStraws campaign, an in-house initiative to remove plastic straws and stirrers from all our events. Then, in 2018, we partnered with the Lonely Whale Foundation, an award-winning non-profit, to create an external initiative, called #TheFutureDoesntSuck, which helped remove single-use plastic straws from bars and restaurants. We also committed to review our global supply chain with one aim in mind: removing non-essential, non-recyclable, single-use plastic waste.

Yes, I’ve seen Blue Planet. But at Bacardi, the ocean isn’t just an abstraction we experience through television. The sea is ingrained in our DNA. We began in the Caribbean, in Cuba. Now our rum continues to be distilled and aged in the Caribbean, on the island of Puerto Rico, and our headquarters are in Bermuda. The Great Big Blue is part of who we are as a company; we see reducing plastic as something we must do to protect our home.  

It feels personal. 

A new solution for a plastic-free future  

Today, we’re announcing a new solution to a problem for which our industry had no answer. A 100% biodegradable spirits bottle that swaps crude oil for a plant-based ‘wonder material’ that will remove 80 million plastic bottles – 3000 tonnes of plastic – currently produced by Bacardi’s portfolio of brands every year.

This sustainable substitute, made of a biopolymer solution called Nodax™ PHA, is derived from the natural oil of canola plant seeds, and produced by the geniuses at Danimer Scientific. 

What makes it so remarkable is that, while a regular plastic bottle takes more than 400 years to decompose, our new spirits bottle will biodegrade in just 18 months across a range of environments – including compost, soil, freshwater and sea water –without leaving behind any harmful microplastics.

Thanks to the versatility of this innovative, new material, we will also crack one of the beverage industry’s longest-standing plastic problems – the plastic lining that seals every bottle, which keeps it from leaking after you open it. This may seem small, but if you consider every single bottle of spirits made globally, it’s clear that we’re talking about tonnes of plastic every day. BACARDÍ® rum will be the first spirit to appear in the new bottle, before it replaces single-use plastic across our entire supply chain and our portfolio of brands, including BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® gin, GREY GOOSE® vodka, PATRÓN® tequila, MARTINI® vermouth and DEWAR’S® Scotch whisky.

Once we’ve fixed that problem, we’ll make the solution open-source and available for the entire industry to use. 

Conducting a sustainability symphony 

The failing health of the planet is the crisis of our time. Consumers are passionate about it, and rightly so. They expect brands to do the right thing, on their behalf.  

Therefore, a commitment to sustainability cannot be an empty promise. It’s essential hygiene, and now forms a large part of brands’ relationship with consumers.  

You have to deliver on it. A lack of sincere effort won’t go unnoticed.

Some of the challenges we have can’t be fixed immediately. But as long as brands take sustainability seriously – and there is a concerted effort, which generates steady, incremental improvement – then I think we’re on the right side of history.

Because we really do need brands to come together and change their tune. 

To make progress, we need a full symphony. 

Watch the video on Youtube