Coca-Cola to increase recycled content in plastic bottles to 50%

Coca-Cola is to double the amount of recycled plastic in all of its bottles produced in the UK, from 25 per cent to 50 per cent, it announced at its sustainable packaging strategy announcement in London on Wednesday (12 July).

The initiative is a key measure in the company’s new strategy for its business in Great Britain. The increase to 50 per cent will be made possible by a new deal with Clean Tech, which operates Europe’s largest and most advanced plastic bottle reprocessing facility in Lincolnshire.

The multi-million pound commitment to purchase recycled plastic from Clean Tech will see Coca-Cola build on its five year relationship with the company and source all of the recycled plastic it uses from within the UK.

The new strategy is focused on three key areas:

  • Progress innovation in the packaging that Coca-Cola uses, in particular the commitment to increasing the level of recycled content in plastic bottles to 50 per cent by 2020.
  • Promoting recycling and encouraging behaviour change among consumers through redirecting some of the company’s marketing expertise and investment. As part of this, Coca-Cola plan to put a new recycling message on bottles later this year and increase focus on messaging at festivals and events.
  • Trying to reform the recycling system, notably the current packaging recovery framework.

Speaking at the event, Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain said: “We want to see all of our packaging recovered and recycled and our new strategy sets out how we will start work to achieve that. Doubling the amount of recycled material in all of our plastic bottles is a significant investment and sends a clear signal that we want to play a positive role in supporting the circular economy here in Great Britain.”

Also present at the strategy announcement was Leendert den Hollander, Vice President and General Manager at Coca-Cola, who noted that while “lots had been done” to increase recycling, “we are not happy with the status quo”. He added: “If you look at the recycling rates of PET plastic, those are stalling at 57 per cent and we believe that’s just not good enough, and that creates a burning platform for us to say what can we do to increase the recycling rate, and that’s underpinning the choices we have made with our sustainable packaging strategy.”Coca-Cola to increase recycled content in plastic bottles to 50%

Stating that Coca-Cola was aiming to establish best practice for the industry, den Hollander said that the company would ensure all new packaging used would be 100 per cent recyclable. Furthermore, he said that the company would aim to be transparent, “on the things we do well and the things we don’t do well”, pledging to talk about these in sustainability reports.

Commenting on behalf of Plastipak, Clean Tech’s parent company, Managing Director Martin Hargreaves said: “The 50 per cent target gives us a long term commitment to sell the output. As Clean Tech, we are investing £8 million in this facility and to improve the operational efficiencies... These investments will improve the output and the quality. Such long term commitments from Coca-Cola lead the way in terms of commitment to recycling, which allows people like ourselves to give longer term commitments to the waste management companies and that’s where we need help, further down the line in sorting [to improve input quality].”

Commenting on the strategy, Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP, said: “To have a brand as well-known and with the reach of Coca-Cola actively encouraging more people to recycle is a really positive step which we welcome. A commitment that half of all the plastic bottles they use will be recycled plastic, understanding that this will cost the business more, shows real leadership in the industry and provides the essential market for recovered materials. Initiatives like this are much needed if we are to change consumer behaviour and recover and recycle more – WRAP and Recycle Now are excited to be working with them on this.  We need more big brands to help inspire people to do their part.”

Reforming producer responsibility

Coca-Cola’s strategy sees producer responsibility throughout the lifecycle of a product feature prominently, with an emphasis on reform, especially of the packaging recovery note system, an issue that featured prominently at the heart of discussions between waste and resource professionals at the recent Resourcing the Future 2017 conference.

Explaining Coca-Cola’s approach, Nick Brown, Head of Sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, said: “Businesses pay into current scheme, which is paid to reprocessors, in the hope that that flows back to the collection bodies, but I think at best we can say that is opaque, and as an industry it is very difficult for us to demonstrate that the money we have contributed into those schemes have really made a difference in the key priorities that need to be addressed in order to improve recycling. So we need to look at the way the current scheme is funded.

“Looking around the world a good producer responsibility scheme is good for us and good for our industry, it can do so many things. It can promote eco-design of products, it can promote design for recovery, for recyclability, it can step change the economics of using recycled materials. At the moment there’s an additional cost on using recycled materials, so businesses have got a difficult business case to put together to do that. It can broaden the contributions from industry, so it can bring more funding to bear and it can target those funds at those things that we know will make a difference to collection rates, communications campaigns, harmonisation of services and key infrastructure be that collection, sorting or reprocessing.

“We’ve been talking to people in our industry for some time and we are delighted to see there is growing consensus for the need to reform. And we also pleased to see that in Edinburgh and Cardiff the administrators are looking at opportunities from changing the producer responsibility scheme. What we do call on though is for the governments of the UK to try work together on this, because to have the impact we need to have any reform needs to be on the broadest possible scale.”

Brown also announced that Coca-Cola would be trialling an on-the-go bottle recovery and reward scheme, to see the impact a small reward will have on littering and recovery to bring new insight to the debate.

You can find more information about Coca-Cola’s new sustainable packaging strategy on Coca-Cola’s website.

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