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Almost everyone recognises the iconic Coca- Cola bottle, but what they might not know is the transformation that it has undergone in recent years. Today, our most sustainable plastic bottle weighs 19.9g, compared with 36g in 1994; it uses 25% recycled plastic, and another 22.5% comes from plant-based materials. But this is just one stage on our sustainability journey.
We’ve committed to reduce the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand by a third by 2020. Almost half of our carbon footprint comes from our packaging, so we continue to innovate by looking at all aspects of packaging from design, weight and recycled content, to renewable materials and recycling. We need to balance the need and desire to create the most sustainable packaging, without compromising on design and aesthetics.
Today, 100% of the 12 billion bottles and cans we produce every year are fully recyclable, but they don’t all get recycled. We want to increase the proportion of rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) we use in our bottles, but to do this we need more PET returned to us. We can’t solve this alone. If we’re to continue to improve our environmental practices and create the bottle of the future, we must collaborate.
Recognising this, we invested in recycling joint ventures to increase the amount of PET that can be reprocessed locally, as well as increasing the availability and use of rPET. One joint venture with ECO Plastics, Continuum Recycling, has more than doubled the amount of food-grade rPET recovered in Britain.
The key challenge now is increasing recycling rates by encouraging consumers to recycle more of the bottles they purchase. We’ve worked with the University of Exeter to better understand the barriers to recycling at home, and found that recycling is an unconscious habit, but that aesthetics play a critical role. We followed 20 families in Great Britain and France for six months and saw that space, systems and technologies within the home determine how waste is managed, and people weren’t prepared to compromise on aesthetics at home to recycle more.
So this year, we have used this insight to launch a recycling challenge with the open innovation platform OpenIDEO, to draw on inspiration from the platform’s 60,000 members to co-create ideas that will help improve at-home recycling habits, and increase recycling rates.
As the science of sustainability advances, the bottle of the future will continue to evolve and incorporate an ever-higher percentage of recycled or sustainable materials.
We are already seeing the future become the present, as in 2011 we introduced the Coca-Cola Company’s PlantBottle packaging – the first-ever fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants. The Coca-Cola Company is looking at how it will source materials from other renewable sources to make a bottle that is 100% made from plants.
Consumers are undoubtedly receptive to recycling, but the look and feel of the product also have critical roles to play. As we work towards creating the bottle of the future, we’ll continue to innovate – something we know works best through collaboration. By working with our peers, scientists, engineers and designers, and responding to consumers, we’ll create great-looking, sustainably-produced bottles.
Joe Franses is Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Coca-Cola Enterprises.
Photo credit: Sandra Mösinger/Thinkstock