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Japan's Suntory joins rival Coca Cola to push Vietnam on plastic recycling

Credit: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER

Japanese beverage giant Suntory Holdings said it would work with rival Coca-Cola as well as Nestle to push the government in Vietnam, among the biggest contributors to plastic waste in the ocean, to create a large-scale recycling system.

By Ritsuko Ando

TOKYO, June 25 (Reuters) - Japanese beverage giant Suntory Holdings said it would work with rival Coca-Cola KO.N as well as Nestle NESN.S to push the government in Vietnam, among the biggest contributors to plastic waste in the ocean, to create a large-scale recycling system.

The alliance comes amid growing global outrage over such pollution, with the European Union voting to outlaw some single-use plastic items such as straws. Japan plans to discuss the issue at the G20 summit it hosts this month.

Suntory, the maker of Hibiki whisky as well as soft drinks, plans to switch out pure petroleum-based plastic bottles in all markets by 2030, using only recycled or plant-based materials. This would cost around 50 billion yen ($467 million), Suntory Chief Executive Takeshi Niinami told Reuters.

This goal is particularly challenging in Suntory's Southeast Asian markets, including Vietnam, where it has a joint venture with PepsiCo PEP.O. Much of the region lacks sophisticated systems for collecting, sorting and treating used plastic.

Niinami said his fear was that governments may take drastic restrictions against plastic bottles instead of working on recycling. The company sees no viable alternative yet to polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

"If an environment minister or regulator suddenly declares PET bottles as bad and restricts its use ... this will be disruptive."

Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said earlier this month he wanted Vietnam to phase out single-use plastics by 2025. He said there should be "drastic measures" to get there but did not say how.

The foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment made outside office hours.

Niinami said the alliance will call on the government to plan a system spanning collection and facilities for recycling, although members have not decided on specifics such as how such infrastructure would be paid for.

He said the alliance was not offering up a blank check, but added Suntory was aware it may need to help and possibly pass on some of the costs of such recycling efforts to customers.

"It would be difficult for suppliers like ourselves to pay for everything," he said.

The alliance will also include the local operations of companies including Tetra Pak and NutiFood.

This is the latest in a string of partnerships among global plastics and consumer goods companies formed this year. A report by Greenpeace last year found Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle to be the world's biggest producers of plastic trash, although all three companies have made recycling pledges.

($1 = 106.9900 yen)

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando in TOKYO; Additional reporting by James Pearson in Hanoi; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and David Evans)

((Ritsuko.Ando@reuters.com; +81 3 6441 1743; Reuters Messaging: ritsuko.ando.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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