November 03, 2021  

Making PepsiCo packaging more sustainable, one bottle at a time

How Archana Jagannathan and her team are leading PepsiCo's efforts to increase the use of 100% recycled-plastic bottles in Europe.

“I love being close to nature,” Archana Jagannathan says. Growing up in India, she cherished family trips to the beaches of Mumbai and Chennai. Now based in London, she plans getaways to compete in triathlons or hike the English countryside. “It’s very rejuvenating to ride a bike or take a walk in the mountains,” Archana says. “Though just sitting by the water feels pretty great, too.”

Four years ago, during a family vacation to Greece, Archana realized that connecting with nature could be more than just a hobby. “I was standing with my daughter, looking at the ocean,” she says. “Everything flipped for me.” In that moment, the outdoors went from being something she was personally passionate about to something she thought she could turn into a career trying to preserve.

Archana found the opportunity she was looking for at PepsiCo. She’s nearing two years as the Senior Director for Sustainable Packaging in Europe. Her job: to identify ways the company can reduce, recycle and reinvent drink and food packaging, from Pepsi MAX bottles to Lay’s chip bags, so that it need never become waste. “I’m like the quarterback of these projects,” she says. Archana leads the team that sets the targets, then makes sure every function involved is aligned and helps motivate different groups to power across the goal line.

“It’s really energizing to work with so many people who are committed to making positive changes,” Archana says. She saw that firsthand after just a few months on the job, when she and her team began forming ambitious plans to roll out Pepsi-brand bottles made from 100% recycled plastic (rPET).

It’s really energizing to work with so many people who are committed to making positive changes.

Increasing the use of materials such as rPET is one element of PepsiCo’s recently announced pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) transformation, which places sustainability at the core of how the company operates. “Moving to more sustainable packaging lowers our carbon emissions by about 40% per bottle in Europe and reduces our use of virgin, fossil fuel-based plastic,” Archana says. “It was such a transformative agenda. I felt it was really important to voice my opinion fearlessly that we should transition to 100% rPET and make PepsiCo a leader in this space.”

European leadership was excited about the prospect. Still, Archana and her team faced significant challenges in moving Pepsi-branded beverages to 100% rPET bottles — namely, making sure enough recycled materials were available and that the new bottles would meet all regulations. She wanted to move quickly, but considering those obstacles, Archana proposed a 2025 timeline, thinking the company might want to phase the project over several years. “But, to my surprise, European leadership asked, ‘Why can’t we be more aggressive? Why can't we do this faster?’” she says. “I found immediate support. That egged me on to be even more assertive.”

In December 2020, PepsiCo announced a commitment to eliminate all virgin plastic from Pepsi-branded bottles sold in nine key European markets by 2022. Under Archana’s direction, a team of more than 100 people set out to build the network that could deliver recycled materials to be repurposed into rPET. The team worked closely with PepsiCo R&D to ensure the new bottles could meet the same quality standards as virgin plastic ones. Archana also advocated for new labels that championed the fact that the bottles were made of 100% rPET.

Rows of Pepsi MAX bottles

Pepsi MAX bottles displaying the 100% recycled logo in Spain.

She is seeing the differences she set out to make take shape. The 100% rPET ambition for Pepsi-branded beverages now extends to 11 European markets. Germany, Greece, Poland, Romania and Spain made the switch this year. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain and Luxembourg are set to follow in 2022, with their commitment also including brands such as 7Up, MTN DEW and Lipton Iced Tea. The company estimates that transitioning these beverage bottles to 100% rPET in those markets will reduce PepsiCo’s use of virgin plastic by more than 70,000 tonnes per year. Archana’s hope is that PepsiCo will soon be able to expand its efforts across all of Europe, and not only with beverage bottles — there are efforts underway aiming to make food packaging more sustainable, too.

“I get to come home from work every day knowing that I can tell my children that I am helping leave the world a better place for them,” Archana says. “I know that sounds lofty! But having that broader purpose and meaning, beyond me or beyond PepsiCo, is what makes this a really exciting job for me.”