CJ Green: Pathé’s Plastic Problem (and Solution)

By Helen Budge | February 27, 2020 4:04 pm PST
Pathé NL's PETman

Europe, along with the rest of the world, has a plastic waste issue in that there’s a lot (too much) of it in everyday circulation. In particular for Pathé NL, the Netherlands’ largest cinema company, 0.5L drink bottles were a big issue. Along with disposable cups (keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming CJ Green article on these as well) they feature regularly on cinema F&B (food and beverage) menus and, despite being recyclable, frequently end up in the regular rubbish bin, the contents of which is then sent to a landfill.

But successful recycling itself is not without its own challenges. Recyclable materials often need to be clean and separate from other – contaminating – waste streams and cinemas have plenty of these (leftover nachos, popcorn, used napkins, etc). So Pathé NL decided to do something about it.

Why Is This Still Happening?
Despite most of us now being far more aware of what and how to recycle in our own homes, the challenge of how to recycle when out and about can be because available receptacles lack clarity or visibility, or consumers aren’t aware of what they’re “supposed” to do with their rubbish. Either way, Pathé NL decided to bridge this communication gap between themselves and their customers to get everyone recycling more effectively.

Pathé NL sells over eight million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles a year across 27 cinema sites. So the company – in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and De Klok Drinks – decided to invoke a circular economy approach and collect these bottles to turn them back into more plastic bottles.

PETman Recycling Container vs. Traditional Recycling Container
Pathé Nederland’s PETman recycling container stands out from the traditional recycling receptacle.

PETman – The Plastic Bottle Bin Hero
And so, in keeping with being in the “business of movies”, they created their own Recycling Superhero and PETman was born. The initial campaign was launched in three of their Rotterdam sites in 2019 – Pathé De Kuip, Pathé Schouwburgplein and Pathé Delft.

Named after PET, the most common type of plastic used to produce water and soft drinks bottles, PETman is the bright yellow superhero bin shaped like a bottle with a hole in his chest and a bottle lid for a superhero hat. Far more visible to the consumer, exciting for kids to interact with and very particular about what waste he’ll “eat” (as a disposal point), customers are also shown a pre-film advert to explain his purpose.

Running from April through to the end of the school holidays in September 2019, approximately 40% of bottles Pathé NL sold were collected and importantly, the waste stream was found to be clean enough to recycle as intended. The positive reaction from customers and the success of the pilot has meant that Pathé NL is looking to launch the initiative in at least another three of their cinemas this time in The Hague area.

Staff Engagement
Any sustainability scheme or initiative is only truly successful if it’s fully understood, appreciated and then implemented by all employees, from top management to those “on the ground”, so to speak.

Pathé NL recognised that their staff were the ones cleaning out the screen areas, bagging and tagging the collected bags of PET bottles and guiding guests around the cinema. So, as well as communicating the values of the recycling initiative to their teams, the company wanted to optimise staff engagement. They implemented an incentive to reward whichever site collected the most bottles with a trip to theme park Walibi Holland. (For those of you wondering, Pathé Delft won.)

Pathé Nederland's Recycling Facility
Abb issue Pathé NL has identified is the need for a specific waste company to collect the recyclable PET bottles. (Photo: Pathé NL)

Tricky Logistics
There have, of course, been difficulties with the logistics of the PETman recycling initiative. Busy days can prove challenging in more ways than one – bins fill up quickly, full bags are heavy to change over and storage space for the used bottle can prove limited. If staff are pressured to clean screens in shorter turnaround times it’s the recycling sorting that will suffer, perhaps understandably.

But these are all areas that can be worked around for the most part. The main issue Pathé NL has come across is the need for a specific waste company to collect the recyclable PET bottles and deposit them at the recycling plant. De Klok Drinks are currently providing this service as an added extra to drinks deliveries but this isn’t something that’s usually part of their remit. A specific waste removal company would need to be engaged to continue this with the necessary  capacity to service the current three Rotterdam sites, the next three sites in The Hague area and the remaining 21 cinemas as and when they’re inducted into the world of PETman.

PET Bottle Recycling
PET bottles crushed and bundled before heading off to be recycled. (Photo: Pathé NL)

Prior To PETman – Pathe NL’s Other Sustainability Measures
Before PETman came to save the (plastic) day, Pathé NL had signed up to the Dutch Government’s “Plastic Pact” in order to meet the European Union’s sustainability goals and deadlines. Along with 75 other big companies – McDonalds and Starbucks included – the aim was/is to ban single-use plastics by 2025. Pathé NL have already removed plastic straws and balloons (for children) from circulation.

Employee uniforms are overlooked when it comes to a company’s approach to sustainability but “fast fashion” is a big issue. That’s why Pathé NL and clothing partner Company Fits are working together to ensure by the end of 2020 all employee wear will be comprised of 40% rPET (recycled plastic) and 60% bio-cotton.

CJ Green is the regular sustainability feature for Celluloid Junkie. If you’d like to be part of the series, wherever you are in the world, or you’d like to nominate another company in the cinema industry who are doing their bit for the environment, then please contact Helen Budge on helen.budge@celluloidjunkie.com

Helen Budge