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How The Coca-Cola Company's Recycled Bottle Redesign is Progressing Sustainability Efforts

The Coca-Cola Company cocacolafeat1.png

The Coca-Cola Company has some news to share. The multinational beverage and snack manufacturer is shifting to 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) plastic bottles across its drink portfolio.

Beginning in February 2021, the company's brands including Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, Diet Coke and Fanta will now come in a new, 13.2oz bottle designed to be sippable and reduce the amount of plastic used. Coca-Cola was first introduced in 1886 and has since become one of the most iconic, recognizable drinks in the world.

The shift to reduce plastics is part of the Atlanta-based company's 2018 global goal to create a World Without Waste, says Alpa Sutaria, vice president and general manager of sustainability for Coca-Cola's North America Operating Unit. The company aims to make 100% of its packaging recyclable by 2025 and to use 50% recycled content by 2030. The bottle redesign is a step forward to achieving this goal.

"Achieving a World Without Waste starts with design," Sutaria says. "We design our bottles for recyclability and reuse so that when they are collected and recycled, they can have many lives including as new bottles and cans. We are actively developing a circular economy for our bottles and cans – by increasing our use of recycled materials. This reduces our use of virgin PET (plastic) and reduces the environmental impact of our packaging."

The company has been collaborating with partners such as The Recycling Partnership, The Closed Loop Fund and Keep America Beautiful to boost recycling across the United States. It recently invested more than $17 million in recycling programs and infrastructure and placed more than 1 million recycling bins across the country.

In a Q&A with Waste360, Sutaria discusses The Coca-Cola Company's sustainability initiatives.

Waste360: How long has this plan been in development? What factors went into deciding the switch to new packaging, including consumer demand?

Alpa Sutaria: In 2018, we announced ambitious goals to achieve a World Without Waste by collecting and recycling the equivalent of one bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030. We also pledged to make all of our packaging recyclable by 2025 and use 50% recycled content by 2030. The innovations that we’ve announced today are all part of our progress toward that goal.

Around the world, including in the United States, we deliver our beverages in a range of packaging including PET, aluminum, glass, refillable and packageless. We are exploring and expanding on all of these systems to ensure that The Coca-Cola Company is delivering refreshments to consumers in the most environmentally sustainable way. By rolling out this new suite of products made from 100% recycled materials* in our flagship market, we’re one step closer to achieving our goals to create a circular economy for our packaging.

Waste360: What is the process and timeline to rolling out the new bottles across all product lines?

Sutaria: Starting this month and rolling out over the next several months in California, the Northeast and Florida, our most iconic and biggest brand, Coca-Cola, will launch an all-new, 13.2oz bottle made from 100% recycled material (not including the bottle’s cap and label) - conveniently sized in a more sippable package while reducing our use of new plastic. 

As part of a portfolio approach, starting this month and continuing throughout the year, we are also introducing 20oz bottles made with 100% recycled material* across Coca-Cola trademark and Diet Coke in California, New York and Texas. In addition, this summer, smartwater will be launching 20oz 100% rPET bottles* in New York and California, with DASANI available in these states plus Texas.

The bottles can be purchased at convenience retail stores, and will be available nationwide for consumers to purchase this summer. You can find an infographic of the overall timeline here

Waste360: Were there any challenges to completely changing the packaging design while simultaneously making it more sustainable? If so, please explain.

Sutaria: Developing a new bottle made from 100% rPET was a challenge. It took us about 9 months to get to a point where we had designed a bottle that could not only meet the packaging performance required for a carbonated beverage, but also, once tested with consumers, we had a final product they were happy with. One of the biggest challenges in creating this bottle is procuring enough clean, food grade recycled plastic to be able to make enough of these sustainable bottles.

Waste360: What opportunities does this new design provide across its product lines?

Sutaria: The biggest opportunity is that our new packaging made with 100% recycled PET material* decreases our use of new plastic, decreases carbon emissions and accelerates progress towards our World Without Waste goals. Through our portfolio of 100% rPET packaging*, we are reducing the use of new plastic by more than 20% across the portfolio in North America compared to the amount of plastic used  in 2018. Using internal company tools and analyses, it is estimated that this effort in the United States represents a 10,000 metric ton reduction in GHG emissions annually. This is the equivalent of taking 2,120 cars off the road for one year. Each of our 2021 actions gets us even closer to achieving our ambitious goals.

Waste360: Besides 100% recycled plastic (rPET), is Coca-Cola exploring any other materials including ones that are biodegradable? 

Sutaria: We are determined to innovate and develop products and technologies that will minimize our collective impact on the environment. We are expanding the use of packageless solutions through the DASANI purefill and Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensed beverages. Around the world, we deliver our beverages in a range of packaging including PET, aluminum, glass, refillable and packageless. We are exploring and expanding on all of these systems to ensure that The Coca-Cola Company is delivering refreshments to consumers in the most environmentally sustainable way. We will continue to increase the use of recycled materials while innovating to develop products and technologies that will minimize our collective impact on the environment.

Waste360: Can you please explain how the color of this packaging makes it easier to recycle?

Sutaria: There is a slight tint to 13.2oz 100% recycled plastic, which has to do with the fact that these bottles are made from recycled plastic and it is challenging to make the plastic perfectly clear. Clear or blue-tinted PET bottles are necessary to make new bottles made from recycled PET. All other colors of PET cannot be recycled remade into bottles because it contaminates the rPET stream. For this reason, we also are introducing a new 13.2oz bottle made from 100% recycled material* in a new, clear package in the Northeast, Florida and California this month. 

Waste360: In addition to the “Recycle Me Again” message, will there be other efforts made to educate consumers about Coca-Cola’s new bottle and sustainability efforts?

Sutaria: We want to inspire everyone to join us in reducing waste, so we’re encouraging people to recycle their bottles and cans with the largest on-package messaging effort ever by The Coca-Cola Company. There will be four touchpoints of recycling messaging on our packages, including on the cap and a few messages on the label. As you mentioned, each 13.2oz 100% rPET package* will feature a “Recycle Me Again” message on the label to inspire people to take action and recycle their bottles so that they can be remade into new ones. The goal is for consumers to recycle these recyclable bottles* so that they can be used again and again as raw material for more new bottles, supporting closed-loop recycling systems and circular economies for PET. This message will also reach consumers through billboards, radio ads, and in-store marketing materials. 

Waste360:What other efforts is Coca-Cola working on to increase circularity within the company?

Sutaria: The Coca-Cola Company is helping to drive a circular economy for plastics by creating more demand for recycled content, while also incentivizing the collection of recyclables. We’re investing in community recycling programs and infrastructure across the United States. We’ve set a clear goal for our business to recover and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell and use 50% recycled content in our packaging by 2030.

We know we need to work with many partners from industry to NGOs to government and consumers to achieve this goal. The company has invested more than $17 million in the United States to support recycling infrastructure and education in thousands of communities in partnership with NGOs as well as government and industry entities. Through our industry association, The American Beverage Association, we’ve invested in a $100MM fund to support community recycling programs across the United States. The Coca-Cola Company is also a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's The New Plastics Economy, an initiative to build momentum towards a plastics system that works. Applying the principles of the circular economy, it brings together key stakeholders to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging.

Waste360: Where does Coca-Cola see itself in the sustainability movement in the next 3-5 years as more beverage companies move to recyclable packaging?

Sutaria: This innovation reflects the commitment from team’s across our organization to create sustainable solutions that are optimized for recycling across our broad portfolio from sparkling beverages to our water brands. Together, the portfolio of 100% rPET solutions brings us close to our overall World Without Waste goals -- our north star for innovations in the years to come. 

In addition to designing better packaging solutions, we are investing in local recycling programs and infrastructure to ensure that Americans can recycle our bottles and cans conveniently, whether at home, at work or in public spaces.

Editor's Note: *Does not include the bottles’ cap and label

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