Tomra: an investment in circularity that yields high returns

​An investment in the global market leader in reverse vending machines yields good returns and helps make the world economy more circular, writes Philippe Kiewiet de Jonge.

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Deposits on plastic bottles

Hardly anyone in the Netherlands would recognise the name Tomra or link it to their regular activity of inserting plastic bottles into a special machine for deposit refund (don’t forget to press the button for your receipt!). Tomra is a Norwegian manufacturer of reverse vending machines that has installed 75 thousand of these machines in more than sixty countries. Annually, they process 35 billion beverage containers.

Tomra is one of the listed ‘investments in solutions’ that PGGM manages for Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (Pension Fund for the Healthcare and Social Sectors): the company yields a good financial return on the invested pension euros and contributes in a concrete way to solutions to the climate problem and environmental pollution.

Fact is that recycling of PET (or PETE) bottles as well as glass bottles is good for the environment and reduces levels of CO2. Annually, approximately one billion bottles (large plastic (PET(i) bottles and certain beer bottles) are deposited in the 4200 Tomra machines in the Netherlands.

These figures are impressive, but need to be seen in context. Globally,
40 percent of all plastic packaging is dumped in landfill sites; 32 percent of all plastic packaging is not collected whatsoever and ends up in the environment(ii.

Besides this, Tomra collects a ‘mere’ 2.2 percent of the 1600 billion beverage containers that are used throughout the world annually (Tomra’s estimate). And while deposit refund systems act as a strong encouragement to recycle beverage containers, most of all the beverage containers (not only plastic bottles, but also glass bottles and cardboard packaging) end up in the environment or in landfill sites as rubbish. The reason for this is that deposit refund systems are not implemented everywhere yet, and they do not yet include all beverage containers(iii.

This is true in the Netherlands too: 95% of what is covered by the deposit system is recycled, but small bottles and cans on which there is no deposit still often end up littering our environment.

Future use

The necessity of switching the enormous amounts of packaging plastic from mainly single-use and ‘linear’ to multi-use and ‘circular’ becomes even clearer when the estimates of the future use of plastics are considered.

In 2014, some 78 million tonnes of packaging plastics were manufactured. This figure will double by 2030 and almost quadruple by 2050, when 318 million tonnes of packaging plastic will be produced. By that time, the production of plastic will be 20 percent of the annual oil consumption (from 6 percent in 2014) and plastic’s carbon footprint will have risen to 15 percent from 1 percent in 2014(iv.

What’s worrying about these figures is the fact that in 2014 a mere 2 percent of the 78 million tonnes of packaging plastic was fully recycled. Earlier this year, the European Union decided that in 2025 its member states will be obliged to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic bottles, for example by means of a deposit refund system. This illustrates how much work needs to be done and that Tomra is a world leader in a structural, long-term growth industry(v.

Since 2005, Tomra has applied its sensor-based technology to new segments as well, such as for inspecting and sorting foodstuffs, in the mining industry, and in waste processing. Tomra has installed 10,500 of these sorting machines in eighty countries.

By now, this component - sorting solutions - represents almost half of Tomra’s annual turnover. What’s more, Tomra’s current sensor-based technology is making it possible to scan objects to 360 degrees: this means that all kinds of beverage containers as well as other objects such as batteries can now be inspected, sorted and processed.

Tomra’s collection and sorting solutions ensure that annually:

  • 27 million fewer tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere; 
  • 35 million beverage containers are collected and processed; 
  • 15 million tonnes of potatoes can be inspected, sorted and peeled at a higher return than with other solutions; 
  • 715,000 tonnes of scrap metal are collected and processed.

In this way Tomra contributes to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14(vi.

This investment proves that financial returns and social returns can go hand in hand. Since Tomra was included in the portfolio (in November 2015), the share price has more than doubled.

    i Polyethylene terephthalate, the type of plastic most used for plastic bottles and other food packaging.
   ii Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy, p26 
  iii In the Netherlands only the following are part of the deposit refund system: PET bottles larger than 0.75 litre and refillable beer glasses of 0.25 to 0.5 litre. Earlier this year, the government
      decided to introduce a deposit on small plastic bottles with effect from 2021 unless the packaging industry manages to reduce the amount of plastic bottles in litter by 70 to 90 percent
      before then. In addition, 90 percent of these bottles must be recycled. Studies show that some 600 million (large) PET bottles are collected via reverse vending machines per year in the
      Netherlands. If small plastic bottles were also to be collected, this would add some 760 to 900 million bottles to this figure. Since cans could also be included in the deposit refund system in
      addition to small plastic bottles, some 1500 to 1800 million cans could also be added annually (estimate from a study by CE Delft, Aug. 2017). In the latter case, the number of reverse
      vending machines of 4200 would need to be approximately doubled.
   ii Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy, p28
   v Studies are currently being conducted into the possibilities for introducing deposits on beverage containers in, amongst others, the following markets: Scotland, England, Quebec, Spain,
       Australia (Queensland and Western Australia). 
   vi SDG 8: “Decent work and economic growth”,
SDG 2: ‘’Zero hunger’’
SDG 8: ‘’Decent Work and economic growth’’
SDG 9: “Industry, Innovation and infrastructure”,
SDG 11: “Sustainable cities and communities”,
SDG 12: “Responsible consumption and production”,
SDG 14: “Life below water”.

Senior Investment Manager

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