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Recycle Week 2022: Meet Sokhna Gueye, Head of Packaging for Nestlé UK & Ireland

woman at recycling centre
At Nestlé, we have set ourselves the goal of making all our packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025.

It's a huge target, but as the world's largest food and beverage company, we know our actions matter. During Recycle Week 2022 we spoke with Nestlé UK and Ireland's Head of Packaging, Sokhna Gueye, who is working hard to reach that ambition.

Sokhna - it's been a busy year for you and the packaging team! What packaging achievement has stood out for you and why? 

The transition of Quality Street from non-recyclable wrappers to recyclable paper ones is a huge achievement for Nestlé - and an industry first. We outlined our ambition to phase out the non-recyclable cellulose packaging in 2019, but at the time, we did not have a viable alternative. I am proud of our Research and Development teams in York, UK, and Lausanne, Switzerland, who worked hard and fast on the recyclable paper development, as well as our team in Halifax, UK - home of Quality Street for 86 years - who are implementing the changes across the multiple production lines.  

How is Nestlé tracking with its company target of making 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025? 

We have extensively reviewed our packaging portfolio and are making a massive transformation to redesign our non-recyclable packaging for recycling. We are on track to have all of our packaging 'designed for recycling' - our recent announcement for Purina pet food pouches is a good example of this. However, there are challenges because the waste management infrastructure in the UK and other countries where Nestlé operates is not well developed. Currently, not every local authority collects all packaging for recycling and kerbside collection across the UK is very inconsistent. Overall recycling rates are still low.  

How is Nestlé working to overcome those challenges?

Nestlé UK and Ireland actively supports regulations towards effective and efficient Extended Producer Responsibility (company responsibility for treatment or disposal of consumer products) and Deposit Return Schemes (giving back customers' deposit on return of types of materials), which when well-designed, will drive increase in packaging collection and recycling rates. On reusable packaging, we welcome policies towards a circular economy (repairing and reusing material). 

Nestlé is always looking to support investment in recycling infrastructure - can you tell us about any new developments? 

We have directly invested £1.65 million in the Yes Recycling plant in Fife, Scotland, where hard-to-recycle plastics are collected from households and processed. The plant will turn flexible plastics, like our Nescafé coffee bags or Purina pet food pouches, into new products to give the packaging a new life. The plant started its operations in September this year. 

This year's Recycle Week aims to challenge perceptions and myths around recycling. What's one of the biggest recycling myths - and can you bust it for us? 

Plastic wrappers, bags, sachets and pouches are often perceived as non-recyclable. But did you know that more than 5,000 stores across the UK now collect flexible plastic packaging for recycling? The challenge is that large quantities of this material need to be collected to make the economics of the system work. So next time you go grocery shopping, don't forget to take all your flexible packaging back with you. 

Tell me more about your role - what does a day in your life look like as Head of Packaging for Nestlé UK & Ireland? 

No day looks the same! I could be visiting recycling plants, packaging suppliers, retailers, or our own facilities. I could be talking to governments on packaging regulations or collaborating with industry peers on overcoming the challenges we face, such as the collection and recycling of flexible packaging.  

It's an exciting time to be working in packaging, as everyone in the industry is striving for improvement in packaging sustainability. With our scale at Nestlé, every little change we make can have a positive impact on people and our planet.   

Are there any exciting packaging announcements in the pipeline at Nestlé that you can tell us about? 

There are always exciting packaging plans and announcements in the pipeline as we continue to work towards making 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable, as well as reducing our use of virgin plastic by a third within the next three years. So, watch this space!