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questions we get asked about sustainability

Why did you move from cartons to plastic for your smoothies?

When we choose our packaging we are considering a whole lot of stuff - customer preference for look and feel, cost for packaging, shelf life of the product, method of filling the packaging with our smoothies & juices, ease of transport etc. And of course, considering the most sustainable option.

Sustainability needs to think about not only carbon but also broader environmental and social issues as well. Cartons have a really low carbon footprint, but require virgin paper, and some virgin plastics to coat the paper. So there are sustainability impacts associated with forestry activities and plastics. Our plastic packaging uses waste materials and is easily recyclable, but has a higher carbon footprint.

We try to make sure we get the right balance for all our packaging, and to make sure that for each packaging format that we use, we make it as sustainable as possible.

We are working with our suppliers and specialist organisations like WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) to ensure that we use the best possible sustainable packaging, and we continue to challenge the industry to develop better materials. If we find a better packaging format than what we currently use, that makes sense for us, for our customers, and for the environment then we will certainly give it a go.

What are you going to do to mitigate the impact of moving to plastic?

We are working hard to make sure that all of our plastic packaging is a minimum of 35% recycled plastic. This is the case for all of our new bigger plastic bottles. As well as constantly looking to increase the recycled content of all of our bottles, we are also doing research to incorporate bio-based plastic into our bottles. We hope that this will make the most sustainable plastic bottle possible.

what do you mean by 'does good'?

Our brand promise is tastes good, does good. As you'd hope, that means that everything we make will always taste good and do good. It will do you good, because we use healthy, natural ingredients, and it will do good for other people and for the planet, too. We give 10% of our profits to charity every year (mostly to the innocent foundation) and we strive to do business in an enlightened way, taking responsibility for the impact of our business on society and the environment. We talk about this commitment further in our FAQ entitled "what do you mean by sourced sustainably?".

what do you mean by sourced sustainably?

We don’t claim to be perfect, but our "sourced sustainably" promise refers to our entire business commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability underpins our NPD process, as we continue to make products that taste good and do you good. The use of only healthy ingredients sourced with known and manageable impacts on the planet is the bedrock of our sustainability strategy.

It reflects the depth of our commitment to sustainability as a business; the innocent values run through all that we do and our responsible value relates almost solely to sustainability. We have commitment at all levels of the organisation and every innocent employee has sustainability within their day-to-day roles & responsibilities. Our fruit minimum standards programme has been running for almost a decade now, through which we have been risk assessing and auditing our growers so that we’re happy with their commitment to fair social and environmental standards. We sometimes favour certified fruit or alternatively, where we see major challenges, we invest in sustainable agriculture projects. More recently, we have started using the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. You can read more about our work here.

We have been pioneering the use of recycled plastic in our smoothie bottles since 2003 and all our cartons are FSC certified. Our manufacturing partners have also been reporting against sustainability KPIs since 2008.

who are the Rainforest Alliance™?

The Rainforest Alliance™ works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour. It not only looks at farm worker's rights and wellbeing, but also protects ecosystems on the farms, which encourages bio diversity. We believe this sustainable approach is the best one. A well run farm with motivated workers means better quality fruit and better productivity, which means we get nicer fruit and the farms are more profitable.

why do you prefer Rainforest Alliance™ over fairtrade or organic?

We think both standards are really valuable. Rainforest Alliance™ is our preferred one given the breadth of the issues that they cover and their suitability for our current purchasing patterns. Fair Trade is most effective for small farms and cooperatives, whilst Organic focuses on environmental issues. Flexibility is also important and we need to make sure we can buy the variety, quality and quantity of ingredients that we need. It isn’t always possible to do this if we align ourselves to just one certification programme.

Our fruit comes from all over the world, from thousands of different farms of all types and sizes — large plantations, co-operative groups, tiny family farms and even from the Amazon rainforest. This means that there is definitely no single certification scheme that will cover all our countries, fruits and the sustainability issues we feel are important. It is a matter of finding a certification scheme that fits us best. Whilst we believe that Fairtrade is a very effective certification, particularly for addressing social issues, it is not widely used for the variety of fruits and the countries that we buy from and as such would significantly limit our purchasing flexibility. We tackle social issues through our SAI minimum standards.

With regards to organic, we do want to minimise pesticide and other agrochemical usage on our fruit, and this is one of the requirements of the innocent SAI minimum standards for our fruit growers. Our standards work to ensure against the use of any of the 'dirty dozen' pesticides as listed by the Pesticide Action Network. To ensure the safety of our drinks we conduct independent tests on our ingredients, at an accredited laboratory, throughout the harvest calendar. Of the test results with anything being detected at all, these detections fall well within the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) that you are allowed. Each year our policy is reviewed and testing procedures updated.

Are you going to buy more certified fruit?

Potentially, but it just isn't applicable for certain countries and certain fruits. As the Rainforest Alliance expands into new certification territory, like pineapple, we'll be keen to keep on building our relationship with them. As they develop new standards for new fruits, we will assess their suitability for our growers. Outside of the world of fruit they certify coffee, cocoa and forestry. Find out more here. Meanwhile we focus on using our SAI minimum standards to assess practices on the farms we work with which you can read more about here.

do you worry about food miles?

Yes we do. That is why we always transport our fruit by land or sea, rather than air freight it. We get our fruit from lots of different places. We do try to get as much as possible from Europe, but when it comes to tropical fruit like mangoes and passion fruit, we have to look elsewhere. Our policy is one of finding the very best fruit and working out the best way to get it into our bottles so we can be sure our drinks are the very best. Interestingly in our carbon audit we found that food miles contribute less than a third of our overall footprint, and that to achieve the greatest reductions we should be working on areas like packaging and bottling. It doesn't mean we won't keep looking for the most efficient way to transport our fruit though.

do you buy fruit locally?

Our commitment when it comes to fruit is to use the best tasting stuff, and to ensure it is natural. Now of course fruit is natural, but by buying it from areas in the world which are best suited for production of that particular variety we can reduce the inputs needed to grow it (be it energy or agrochemicals). Currently just over half of the fruit we buy comes from Europe, and of course our tropical fruits like mango, pineapple and banana come from a little further afield. With regard to buying fruits grown in the UK we face two main challenges. Firstly that these fruits are primarily grown for the fresh market (the fruit you buy whole in a shop), and as such they often do not have the taste characteristics that are suitable for a smoothie (they can be a bit watery — which is lovely fresh, but not in a smoothie). Secondly, as these fruits are grown for the fresh market they are very expensive, and for example with the amount of strawberries we need for our smoothies, we simply cannot afford them and still make our smoothies at a competitive price.

We also consider the social benefit, by providing a market for products from less developed nations we can provide much needed income to local communities.

what’s your approach for sustainable packaging?

We aim to make our packaging as sustainable as possible. We've realised that one of the best ways to do this is to measure the carbon impact of each of our packs. Our toolkit then for reducing carbon looks a little like this:

Use less: as little material as possible per pack

Don't use up new stuff: as much recycled or renewable material as possible

Close the loop: materials and pack formats that are easy to recycle

Lower its impact: packaging that has a low carbon footprint per ml of product

Obviously, we also try to make sure that it does the job it's supposed to - if doing one of the above resulted in increased waste of the product inside (either through damage in transport, or reduction in shelf-life) it would not be good for sustainability – in our case, the environmental impact of packaging is less than that of the product itself.

To make sure we are always improving, our packaging team sets priority improvement projects each year. Any new piece of packaging is also assessed against these criteria, and this assessment is an important consideration in its design. Finally, we are also now working towards using plant-based plastics in our bottles. You can read more about it on our main website.

 

how do you choose your packaging materials and format?

We choose the packaging that works best for our products and for our customers, as well as that which works best from a sustainability perspective (using carbon as our primary method of assessment). For our plastic bottles this has meant until now using recycled material and trying to get it as light as we can. We are now looking into the potential of combining recycled plastic with bioplastics. For our kids wedges we use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper to make sure the paper comes from sustainably managed forests.

what's the difference between recycled and recyclable?

Many materials are now recyclable i.e. they have the potential to be collected and made into new things. For example paper can be made into more paper. Plastic can be made into more plastic.

If something contains recycled material, this refers to what they were made out of in the first place, i.e. it contains either some material, or is made entirely out of material, that already used to be something else.

 

are your kids' wedges really recyclable?

Despite most people thinking otherwise, our cartons are fully recyclable. The issue is that unfortunately not all UK councils currently recycle them, in the same way that most councils didn't take plastic bottles 5 years ago. However, this situation is definitely improving. Over 85% of all councils in the UK now provide some form of carton recycling facilities. Many facilities are recycling banks (in supermarket car-parks or specific waste sites), but over 50% of councils will now collect them from households. To find out how you can recycle beverage cartons in your area, visit www.recyclenow.com

are your cartons from certified sustainable materials (like fsc)?

We are delighted to say that all of our cartons are made from 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified card. Certification ensures that the paper comes from forests that meet high environmental standards, where forest workers are treated fairly, and the forestry company invests in ensuring the forest is there for the long term.

If you want to read more about the great work of the FSC visit www.fsc-uk.org.

why don't you use reusable glass bottles?

We do remember the good old days of the milk bottle.

While the reusable glass milk bottles look like the right answer, environmentally there are actually a lot of issues for us to consider. Milk bottles are heavy, and take up lots of room in a vehicle as they cannot be flattened. So moving milk bottles around, either when empty or full, takes up lots of vehicle space and uses lots of fuel, creating lots of carbon emissions. There are also significant amounts of energy needed to wash them, and then distribute them back to all the bottling sites for the companies that are using them. Glass also requires a lot of energy to create in the first place and again when it is recycled due to the heat needed to melt it down. Both our cartons and our new plastic bottles are much lighter, use less material to hold the same amount of product, and use less energy to make in the first place. So while they are only used once, unless the glass bottle collection and washing scheme is incredibly efficient, environmental assessments have actually shown the alternatives to be more efficient.

 

why are the bottles a bit of a funny colour?

When you are using recycled material it is hard to get a consistent colour of your plastic. This is because the plastic used to be all sorts of different things and lots of different colours - so to get it back to being completely clear is very tricky. We have worked really hard to incorporate sorting equipment so that we use the best available plastic, but there is still a slight tint to the packaging. Since we introduced our 100% recycled plastic bottle in 2007 we noticed that the colour of the plastic got quite a bit worse and our smoothies were starting to look a very funny colour. This is why we had to reduce our 100% recycled plastic bottle to a 35% recycled plastic bottle temporarily. The great news is that we’re chipping away and have since moved back to 50% recycled plastic in all our small smoothie and juice bottles.

what about health and safety of the bottles?

The bottles are perfectly safe. We have EU Directives and legislation that stipulate the processes that can be used and the safety parameters within which any recycled material in contact with food has to perform. This legislation is to ensure that there is no migration of active chemicals through the plastic over the duration of the product life. The use of recycled plastics in contact with foodstuffs in Europe is subject to European Commission Directive 2002/72/EC of 6 August 2002 although some countries have their own guidelines as well e.g. France.

We commissioned PIRA to carry out independent testing to assess the performance of the selected material in our bottle, and also sought legal advice from a law firm who are experts in food legislation to confirm we were legal in all the countries in which we do business.

are there problems with using recycled plastic?

Black specs are common in rPET which have not been selected to a high enough grade. The more selective the grade, the more expensive the material. The grades are based on the colour and quality of the plastic selected for that particular batch.

Discolouration is an issue. With the highest grade of clear PET there will always be a yellowing of the plastic from the re-processing. With the next grade down, there are usually a lot of tinted bottles in the selection many of which are blue from the water bottle industry. The colour can therefore be blue, grey or green. Taking all this in to account, we have found that 50% rPET works well in our little bottles and a minimum of 30% rPET in all our other bottles.

how many times can PET be recycled?

Plastic does lose some of its original quality through recycling. This is caused by specks of dirt, contamination and the fact that the original molecular make-up can change. Studies have shown that you can recycle PET up to 10 times for use in a food-grade product (closed loop), such as our bottles, without needing to use any virgin material. After this, you can either use the recycled plastic and add in some virgin material, or the PET can be recycled for different products, like fleecy jackets, outdoor furniture, or carpets. WRAP tell us that based on the current and foreseeable recycling technology, recycling rates and demand, an rPET level in the order of 35% for all PET packaging would be a very positive and hugely beneficial industry target to aim for. This would preserve the integrity of the recycling stream and allow the loop to remain closed.

has the recycled content of your smoothie bottles changed? if so, what to and why?

We’ve been pioneering the use of food grade recycled plastic ever since 2003 when we first introduced 25% recycled content (rPET) to our bottles. We then took our little bottles all the way to 100% recycled plastic in 2007. In 2011 we had to reduce the content down to 35%, because the quality of the recycled plastic we were using had declined to the point that the plastic was grey and cloudy.

We want our packaging to be sustainable, but we also want our smoothies to look their best, and our packaging to do the job it’s supposed to do. We wanted to inspire other companies to use recycled plastic and demonstrate that it can perform as well as virgin plastic, but we weren’t able to do that.

We were determined to increase the recycled content again and worked hard with our suppliers to try and develop new clearer grades of recycled plastic. This included creating a colour specification for recycled plastics, and the introduction of new laser sorting equipment. The great news is that the quality has been improved, and this year we were able to make the commitment that all our bottles will be always 30% or more recycled plastic. In fact, all our little and large smoothie bottles are now 50% recycled plastic.

We’ll keep plugging away on the rest.

does innocent use any PLA packaging?

We trialled the use of PLA (polylactic acid) for our yoghurt breakfast thickie in 2007 - we liked the material because it was made entirely from a renewable resource, and could be composted at end of life. Following on from our trial, we found that PLA isn't quite the right material for us. While the bottle is made from a renewable resource, it does not use any waste materials. There are concerns about the use of food crops to produce plastics and fuels - in that they can take land that is needed for food crops, and push up the prices of food. It is really important to make sure that we use what would have otherwise been waste materials where we can, and to check sourcing carefully to ensure the crops are grown responsibly. Finally, composting is not yet a mainstream end of life option here in the UK, with only a small number of households having any sort of collection of food waste. We have also received feedback from plastics recyclers that PLA bottles can add costs into their recycling operations and in some cases prevent recycling of conventional plastics.

We have opted for the use of a minimum of 30% recycled plastic in all of our bottles. They use material that would have otherwise gone to landfill, and the bottle can itself be recycled again, with the majority of UK households having a plastics recycling collection.

I thought this planet was covered in water? How could we be running out?

97% of the world's water is actually seawater. Of the 3% that is freshwater, three quarters is locked up in ice which leaves just 0.75% for drinking, watering crops and sharing with all the animals, plants and forests. To complicate matters further, demand for freshwater is growing (think population and industrialisation growth), access to water varies enormously from place to place and throughout the year. Plus, to top it off, water pollution is worsening across the globe.

so is everyone running out of water?

Water scarcity (the measure of how much is available versus how much is used) is always measured locally, so yes, some places are doing better than others. However, even places with reasonably high rainfall levels, e.g. the UK, are facing major problems. This is purely because we use so much of the wet stuff, especially in the South East. So make sure you turn the tap off when you clean your teeth and consider fitting an aerator to your tap

what is innocent doing about this?

As with all major environmental issues we are taking this very seriously, which is why we previously spent quite a bit of time mapping the water footprint of our business, focusing on one of our biggest selling recipes, the strawberries and bananas smoothie. We have since focused on opportunities to begin improving that footprint. In particular, you can read all about our award winning strawberry water project in Spain here.

Got another question about the things we make? Or any suggestions for what we should make next?

Fling an email over to hello@innocentdrinks.co.uk. We'd love to hear from you.