Partners in Sustainable Water Use
uncovering the Bulgarian mineral water market
Partnerships are the solid foundation on which our activities are built. For our Bulgarian brand Devin the partnership with Ecopack has been invaluable in paving the way towards a more sustainable future. Petya Manastirska, Sustainability & Quality Manager Bulgaria at Devin, and Mihail Mitev, Manager of Customer Services Department at ECOPACK* Bulgaria, discuss the success stories and unique challenges of the Bulgarian market.
In 2019, Bulgarians drank an average of 100L of bottled water pro capita. This is slightly less than the EU average of 118L, and less than the 130L the average Belgian or the 168L the average French person consumes, but bottled water has slowly been gaining in popularity since 2010. Soft drinks remain hugely popular in Bulgaria – representing just under 50% of the total beverage market – but in 2020 bottled water has nudged ahead and taken the lead.
“Taking care of our planet is a shared responsibility between municipalities, businesses and citizens. We all have our part to play and for Devin this means raising awareness, caring for our consumers, our environment and implementing best practices at every step.” – Petya Manastirska
Partnerships for the Future
Established in 2004, Ecopack manages the separate collection, recycling and recovery of packaging waste on behalf of its member companies. The ambition to achieve a circular economy is, of course, a shared one. And industry leaders should unite, pooling their strength and resources to meet the necessary milestones on the journey towards a zero-emission Europe believes Mihail. “Ecopack is Bulgaria’s biggest supplier of the recycling industry and is proud to partner with the country’s leading brands, including Devin. We all believe in the necessity of proper infrastructure and a strong message. It will allow us to reassure the consumer that when they buy their favourite drink, it can become part of the circular economy.”
“Consumers rely on the internet and the labels on the products they buy for information,” says Petya. “People are interested in scientific facts, and we play a very important role as manufacturers in making people familiar with the challenges that lie ahead. The ban on single use plastics and SUP directive for example aren’t as widely known here as in Belgium or Germany.”
“It all starts with the definition of sustainability,” suggests Petya. “It’s not always clear to consumers what sustainable development means. Taking care of our planet is a shared responsibility between municipalities, businesses and citizens. We all have our part to play and for Devin this means raising awareness; showing our consumers how we care for them and for our environment and implement best practices at every step.”
“Especially the younger generations understand how important environmental protection is. They’re highly motivated to get involved and are open to participate in projects and discussions that will help create a cleaner, greener planet. They understand the idea behind the circular economy and see that it is possible to make this a reality. The older generations have grown up in the linear economy and this new vision for the future will have to take hold one step at a time. There’s also a big lifestyle difference between city dwellers and people who live in rural areas.”
Bulgaria has both cultural and historical differences to overcome as a relatively new member of the EU. Where most of Europe has seen significant investments in infrastructure following the second world war, newer members are playing catch up. “The preparation period at the start of the new century and ultimately joining the EU in 2007 were the first steps for our governmental organisations, businesses and consumers to start thinking about environmental compliance and developing more ecological habits such as separating waste and recycling,” explains Mihail. “We’re only about halfway to where we need to be, but we are making great strides. The new EU directives give us a clear horizon for 2025-2030. It’s now up to us to make this massive leap and achieve the next level on all fronts.”
“The EU has set ambitious targets for achieving a zero-emission and fully circular economy. To achieve it everyone along the value chain will have to step up and become more proactive. We’ve entered into a number of joint projects over the last few years, including awareness campaigns and cobranding educational channels with ‘zero-litter’ and ‘separate waste correctly’ messages. These campaigns have been very effective and we’re seeing a big difference in behaviour.”
The road towards a circular economy is not without its challenges agrees Petya. “Strong communication is essential. From zero-litter messaging to clearly labelling packaging and collection points, education is key. We want to further increase people’s understanding on for example the difference between 100% recyclable materials and 100% recycled material. If we want to close the materials loop and achieve a circular economy, we need to show people why it is important that they correctly recycle their used PET. Our products may be 100% recyclable, but it needs to find its way back to us if we want to meet our targets.”
“PET still gets some of the best prices on the market because it is so easy to recycle and has so many applications.” says Mihail. “Currently most of the PET collected is recycled as fibres for bags or other items that tend to be made only once. We need to collectively invest in state of the art technology if we want to be able to guarantee the necessary purity of materials to remain food grade rPET and reach the EU targets."
“The main challenge is ensuring we can use the bottles we collect time and again for their intended purpose: to distribute healthy and safe water,” continues Petya. “We have to create awareness of the limitations of recycling too. If people deposit dirty bottles that have been used for oil or are full of cigarette butts, they can’t be used for food grade purposes again.”
“We can and will achieve a circular economy. We might still have a long road ahead of us, but we can make it shorter and accelerate our pace when we combine our efforts as responsible businesses. Companies need to be proactive and come up with common solutions. Step by step the movement will reach beyond the big cities and reach smaller communities too and we will have a highly motivated and educated society ready for change,” concludes Mihail.
* Under the Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (EPR), Europe places responsibility for the post-consumer phase of certain goods with manufacturers. That is to say, the companies that bring packaging into the market are asked to ensure packaging is correctly treated and disposed of. The idea behind this scheme is to help prevent waste as the source, promote product design for the environment and support public recycling and materials management goals. In Belgium FostPlus manages the separate collection, recycling and recovery of packaging waste. In France this is CITEO, in The Netherlands the Afvalfonds Verpakkingen is responsible for waste management, and in Bulgaria Ecopack is the not-for-profit body that ensures packaging finds its way into the circular economy.