To solve our sustainability challenges we need to be fast, think creatively and work together

Pictured: Panellists at the 'Real Talk' event, including Sam Jones (second from left)

Across the Coca-Cola system, we often talk about our commitment to achieving a World Without Waste – our pledge to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030. We know that many other companies in our sector share similar goals – but we need to ensure we adopt a unified approach in order to make them a reality.

That was my biggest take-home message from Real Talk; the annual forum we host to discuss and find solutions to the biggest issues facing our sector.

Moderated by Dr Tony Juniper CBE, and held in partnership with WRAP, this year’s Real Talk focused on the future of packaging. It brought together leading voices from WWF and Behaviour Change, and industry partners M&S and McDonald’s, to discuss how we can expand on the ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ model, to reimagine packaging – and achieve a fully circular economy for plastic.

We recognise we are part of the challenge, but we also firmly believe we are part of the solution. That’s why having open conversations about the problems our sector faces – even the really difficult ones – is so important in helping to pave the way towards more sustainable packaging across Great Britain.

One of the key ideas that struck me listening to our panel discussion came from WWF’s Paula Chin, who compared sustainability initiatives across global businesses to moving chess pieces around the board. It’s all very well introducing our own initiatives to help people recycle, for example, but as decision-makers, consumers, workers and politicians we need to rise above our competitive nature and act decisively, together, to fight the challenges we’re facing.

Making this possible will require fresh, collective thinking, agility and tenacity. This is why we are strong advocates of a UK-wide, aligned, and well-designed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). This will be one of the best ways we can reduce plastic waste, as these schemes enable us to produce and deliver more high-quality recycled plastic which can be converted into new bottles.

I was also interested to hear from Behaviour Change’s David Hall, who emphasised the challenges consumers face when it comes to recycling. With a range of recycling processes often varying between neighbourhoods, and each brand labelling its products differently, it is crucial we as industry work together to make it easier and simpler for people to recycle – another example of why collaboration is so important.

Whilst these initiatives, especially DRS, should have a transformational impact – particularly on low recycling rates – alone, they aren’t enough. We need to continue to explore and scale reusable and refillable models of packaging, that work for consumers. Utilising refillable and returnable glasses or plastic bottles will promote a circular economy further, as we know refillable containers have higher levels of collection – they also have a low-carbon footprint, with collection built directly into the beverage delivery model. This will be critical to delivering the carbon and plastics reduction our environment demands.

Although businesses are starting to make productive strides in the sustainability space, I think it is crucial we support our consumers as much as we can along the way. That’s why this year we became the first soft drinks company in Great Britain to begin the roll-out of attached caps to our 500ml bottles, to make recycling as easy as we can for everyone, but we know there is still much more to do.

We understand there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and that it has never been more important for all of us to work faster, smarter and more collaboratively with our customers and partners, in order to speed up progress towards a fully circular economy for plastic packaging.

Watch Coca-Cola GB’s Real Talk discussion and Q and A in full here.

Sam Jones, GB Head of Climate & Sustainability, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

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