Redesign, collaborate and collect: Inside Coca-Cola European Partner's plastics strategy
EXCLUSIVE: Coca-Cola European Partners' (CCEP) vice president of sustainability, Joe Franses, looks across the company's four-pillar sustainable packaging roadmap to outline how collection, redesign and removal can ensure that all its packaging is collected and reused.
In October 2019, Coca-Cola in Western Europe unveiled a sweeping new commitment to improve the sustainability of its packaging as part of a broader ambition of working towards a “world without waste”. Under a new strategy, the company announced that it will aim to incorporate 50% recycled PET plastic for its bottles by 2023 increasing to 100% eventually. The company will also provide annual updates on its packaging footprint.
In fact, Cola-Cola has already starting disclosing data, notably to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, who’s spring 2019 report found that Coca-Cola used three million tonnes of plastic in its global operations in 2018. This figure accounts for both virgin and recycled plastics.
The company was named as the world’s largest corporate plastic polluter last year, in a report from Greenpeace, but is committing to redesigning the value chain of its bottles to create a world without waste.
Western Europe is a prime location to mobilise this ambition, due to its more advanced waste management process and infrastructure. CCEP is the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler by revenue, operating in 13 countries in Western Europe and employing around 23,300 people.
According to vice president of sustainability Joe Franses, the company realises the role it has to play in not only improving the recyclability and sustainability of its own products, but also in the collection of plastics that seep into the natural environment at an alarming rate.
“As part of our new sustainable packaging roadmap, we have unveiled a further ambition to accelerate towards 100% recycled or renewable materials in all our plastic bottles,” Franses told edie. “This will require strong collaboration and joint innovation with our packaging suppliers. In the long-term this would help us to remove more than 200,000 tonnes of virgin plastic from our packaging supply chain each year
“Accelerating our goal to reach 50% rPET across our packaging by 2023 is also highly ambitious because it requires us to build a pipeline of high-quality, food-grade recycled plastic. We would need around 120,000 tonnes of rPET per year in our European markets and this kind of quantity is not easily available.”
Building the pipeline is part of a four-pillared approach to sustainability that focuses on removing unnecessary and hard-to-recycle single-use packaging; ensuring that 100% of packaging is recyclable or reusable; exploring refillable and package-free delivery models and working to collect 100% of its packaging by collecting a bottle or can for every one produced by 2025. In short, CCEP is focusing on the design, collection and new business models found across the value chain of a plastic bottle.
Already, CCEP’s bottles and cans are 98% recyclable, but the company is striving to reduce the amount of plastic it has to use.
The company is aiming to reduce packaging weight and increase use of recycled and renewable materials through redesign. One step is to focus on the weight of the bottle. Today, a 500ml plastic bottle from Coca-Cola weighs 19.9g, almost 10g lighter compared to 2008.
In 2018, the company invested €3.7m (£3.2m) to lightweight its packaging portfolio of bottles, cans, labels and closures. It resulted in the elimination of 1,983 tonnes of packaging material, reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 4,663 tonnes of carbon.
Franses also highlighted recent announcements from both The Coca-Cola Company and CCEP, such as moving from plastic shrink wrap to 100% recyclable cardboard for its can multipacks; transitioning to 100% recycled plastic bottles for its Honest, Glaceau Smartwater and Chaudfontaine brands; moving from green to clear PET plastic for its Sprite brand bottles, as examples of how products are being redesigned to improve recyclability.
CCEP used 27.6% recycled content in its plastic bottles last year - more than ten times the beverage sector's global average proportion of 2-3%. According to CCEP’s recent integrated annual report, the company is on track to meet its recycled content aim after signing a deal with Loop Industries to secure a continuous and secure flow of high-grade recycled PET (rPET). The agreement with Loop Industries will see the firm purchase 100% recycled rPET plastic.
In the Netherlands, the 50% target will be reached by the end of the year, and the Great Britain business is set to hit the target in 2020.
In addition to investing in rPET, CCEP is looking to increase the use of its Plant PET, a renewable, bio-based material. In 2018, 3% of the company’s PET packaging was made from Plant PET. Globally, more than 40 billion PlantBottles are now produced worldwide by Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola is also working with Carlsberg, the Absolut Company and L’Oreal on a new paper bottle community that will develop, trial and attempt to commercialise paper-based bottle packaging.
The company’s enormous distribution levels for bottles is part of the wider societal issue that has led to a traditional linear economy for single-use plastics. While green groups have criticised the company’s global increase in plastic bottle production, the company has doubled down on efforts to embed its products as part of a circular economy.
The company is using its brands to engage with consumers to promote correct recycling, as well as working with local governments and external stakeholders to improve collection and therefore recycling rates.
As mentioned, Coca-Cola has set a target to collect 100% of its packaging by collecting a bottle or can, regardless of brand, for every one produced by 2025.
Coca-Cola has set up collaborative partnerships with local governments and industry partners to kickstart the collection process. Working with the likes of Fost Plus in Belgium, CITEO in France, Remondis and Interseroh in Germany, WRAP and Valpak in the UK, Infinitum in Norway, Ecoembes in Spain and Returpack in Sweden has already boosted closed-loop practices for its products.
Franses noted that cross-industry collaboration was crucial in driving the circular economy, in order to design a collection system that functions to ensure that recyclable material doesn’t end up as waste.
“To make a difference to the packaging waste problem, cross-industry collaboration is crucial,” Franses said. “While, as a beverage industry leader and major producer of plastic packaging, it is our responsibility to ensure that our packaging does not end up as waste, ultimately, we want to find solutions which will help everyone recycle more and we are working with local partners to help design the best system possible for collection.”
In 2018, the company set up a dedicated Recovery Management Office (RMO), that works across functions within the business. The RMO has developed a methodology that provides transparency and data of CCEP’s recovery rates of each material per market.
As of 2018, Coca-Cola estimates that 74% of its packaging across all territories is being collected, but rates vary from country to country. For example, in Great Britain, 59% of its PET packaging is collected for recycling as a percentage of total PET packaging put onto the market – in Germany and the Netherlands, the totals reach 98% and 86% respectively.
“This links back to the challenge of collection,” Franses added. “In many of our markets, the infrastructure that’s in place to support the collection and recycling of plastic packaging needs to improve.
“Across Europe, countries use different collection schemes for beverage packaging, including ‘household collection’ and ‘deposit return systems’ (DRS). Of these two types of system, DRS - such as those in place in Germany and Scandinavia - tend to generate higher packaging collection rates, often upwards of 90%.”
Coca-Cola has been vocal in its public support for a well-functioning DRS system and is trialling systems at select locations. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola Great Britain extended a project to place onsite reverse vending machines for plastic bottles at major UK attractions including Alton Towers Resort, Thorpe Park, and Legoland Windsor, after a trial collected more than 26,000 bottles last year.
New business models
Aside from collection, CCEP and Coca-Cola are increasing the amount of packaging that is considered reusable or refillable. CCEP has trialled Freestyle smart fountain dispensers at the University of Reading and two music festivals in a bid to promote consumer awareness on reuse.
Materials other than plastic, such as glass, steel and aluminium is made of 35.3% recycled content on average for the company. In 2018, 13.8% of Coca-Cola’s PET packaging and 84.9% of its glass packaging was refillable.
The efforts on redesign and recycled content to date have also created an added carbon benefit for Coca-Cola. Packaging accounts for 41% of the company’s value chain carbon emissions, but lightweighting and promoting recycled content over virgin plastics has reduced the carbon footprint of Coca-Cola packaging by 14.2% since 2010.
Franses noted that there isn’t a silver bullet to the plastics issue, but that the plethora of solutions that are introduced by businesses must account for other environmental impacts too.
“There is no silver bullet to solving the plastic waste problem the world currently faces,” he added. “At Coca-Cola we’re focused on building a sustainable packaging strategy that leverages all the tools available to us to ensure we reach our goal of making sure 100% of our packaging is collected and then reused or recycled. We also need to make the right decision from a carbon and climate change perspective.”