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Global Management Forum 2019

Nissin CEO vows to make instant noodles sustainable

Japanese pioneer says premium products are gaining traction in China

Nissin Foods President and CEO Koki Ando intends to use energy from burning instant noodle cups even though it is "a bit more costly." (Photo by Yoichi Iwata)

TOKYO -- Japan's Nissin Foods Holdings is stepping up efforts to reduce the environmental damage of its instant noodle cups, its top executive told the Nikkei Asian Review.

The company recently announced plans to start using energy generated from burning used noodle cups as electricity in its Tokyo headquarters. The scheme is "a bit more costly" compared to its usual electricity bill but it is "important to move the cycle forward," CEO Koki Ando said in an interview during the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Monday.

While used plastic bottles are often clean and are easily recycled, empty instant noodle cups contain oil and other residue. In Japan, a large portion of plastic waste is reused via “thermal recycling” or burning it and using the energy as electricity. Environmental groups say this process cannot be considered recycling, but Ando argued the important thing is that the energy would be reused.

While the instant noodle industry accounts for less than 1% of total plastic waste, the issue "cannot be ignored," he said.

Nissin -- whose late founder, Momofuku Ando, is considered the inventor of instant noodles -- is the world's second-largest instant noodle maker. His son, Koki, has been CEO since 2008.

The energy move comes on top of Nissin's plans to replace a portion of the petrochemical-based plastic material used to make its cups with plant-derived plastic. The new cups will be introduced in December and will replace all existing ones by the 2021 fiscal year.

Japan is the world's No. 2 producer per capita of plastic packaging waste -- increasingly seen as a major source of pollution -- behind the U.S. The urgency to find a solution has grown significantly since China banned plastic waste imports nearly two years ago. Consumer goods companies have begun switching to biodegradable plastics and paper-based materials, although plastic bags and packaging are still widely used across the country.

Ando also said Nissin is seeing "growing demand" in China, and that higher-priced products are popular among young consumers. The Chinese business is run by its Hong Kong subsidiary.

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