Coca-Cola Shifts to 100% Recycled Plant-Based Bottles in US

The company’s latest move away from plant-based plastic could influence the rest of the beverage industry. 

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Coca-Cola asserts that its focus now is to take substantial steps in preventing the plastic waste that clogs the world’s waterways.
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In what is being touted as a major shift in its sustainability strategy, Coca-Cola Company is introducing 100 percent recycled plastic bottles in the United States, reported Bloomberg.

As per the Break Free From Plastic Campaign, Coca-Cola, which was responsible for more plastic pollution than any other company once advocated for plant-based bottles that don’t use fossil-fuel inputs.

Coca-Cola asserted that it is focused on taking substantial steps in preventing the plastic waste that chokes the world’s water sources.

In comparison to 2018, the new recycled Coke bottles will reduce the company’s use of new plastic by more than 20 percent across its North American portfolio, the company report said.

Alpa Sutaria, Coca-Cola Co.’s vice president and general manager of sustainability, said this is a change in the way the company reduces waste.

Insisting on companies to use more reusable and recycled options, she further said when the plant-based material is turned into plastic, it still remains a virgin plastic.“That’s not something consumers will stand for anymore,” Sutaria was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

In 2018, Coca-Cola had reportedly pledged to make its packaging 100 percent recyclable by 2025, along with using 50 percent recycled material in bottles and cans by 2030.

The following year it announced that Sweden would become the first market where all its products are sold in fully recycled plastic bottles.

As reported by Bloomberg, in addition to making 20-ounce bottles made of rPET, the company will be introducing a new 13.2-ounce bottle made of 100 percent recycled PET, or rPET. Sutaria further noted that the change in size is partly due to customer feedback which said that 20-ounce bottles can be "too much" but 12-ounce cans "too little".

While the new bottles will arrive in Florida and California and then nationwide later in the year, they will roll out in the northeast in February.

The new bottles will cost $1.59 before tax, compared to a 20-ounce bottle that costs about $1.99.

The cost of the rPET bottles will be the same as the regular plastic, Sutaria added.

For the ease of recycling, the company is also moving Sprite to all-clear packing by the end of 2022, reported Bloomberg.

According to Julia Attwood, leader of BloombergNEF’s advanced materials research, Coke was a pioneer in using plant-based bottles in 2009.

She said that due to technological advances bottles that were made from 30 percent plant matter can now be made with 100 percent plant matter.

Coke’s recent shift from plant-based plastic could turn out to be a major influence for the rest of the beverage industry Attwood said. “For the champion of the bio-based bottle to essentially be abandoning it is a big sign for how the circular economy is going to move first,” she said.

From an emissions point of view, bio-based bottles are better than recycled bottles, as the latter is still derived from oil, added Attwood. However, the carbon impact of 100 percent rPET bottles is much lower than regular plastic. 

“You basically cut the carbon footprint in more than half by using 100 percent recycled, and the cost isn’t significantly higher,” she was quoted by Bloomberg as saying.

There are a quite a few notable barriers in the US recycling market, including a wide range of policies that exist at the state and local levels. Sutaria insisted that it is essential for companies to find both local and national ways to implement recycling.

She said that it makes things a lot more easier if we could get more recycling to happen. “In that case we could get more of the things that are recycled to be turned into really clean materials that can be reused,” she added.

(With inputs from Bloomberg.)

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