Packaging is vital to protecting our products during delivery and use, and nearly all of our packaging material has value as recycled material. That is why we are working to find ways to avoid our packaging turning into waste and optimizing packaging efficiency. We are designing more resource-efficient packaging, supporting community recycling systems, and increasing our use of renewable materials through innovation.
Unfortunately, the reality is we still haven’t made the progress we wanted. We have faced challenges with economics, regulatory issues, lack of necessary infrastructure and collaboration needs. In order to more rapidly improve the recovery and recycling rates for our packaging there must be collective action to solve the bigger issue of waste management and recycling. We are working to address gaps in a holistic way with industry, government and civil society.
"Our vision is to leverage our significant scale and resources to contribute meaningfully to the "circular economy," in which materials are used and reused to provide ongoing value."
Our vision is to leverage our significant scale and resources to contribute meaningfully to the “circular economy,” in which materials are used and reused to provide ongoing value. Our efforts to create more sustainable packaging contribute to our overall climate goal to reduce the carbon footprint of the Coca-Cola “drink in your hand” by 2020, of which packaging accounts for 25-30 percent.
Reporting on Progress
Our packaging mix in 2016 consisted of plastic PET bottles (59 percent), aluminum and steel (12 percent), refillable glass (8 percent), refillable PET (6 percent), and non-refillable glass (1 percent). The great majority of our predominant packages (bottles, cans – PET, aluminum/steel and glass) are 100% recyclable.
In 2016, we refilled or helped to recover and recycle bottles and cans equivalent to nearly 60 percent (as estimated) of those that we introduced into the marketplace that year through the sale of our products—59 percent to developed markets and 60 percent to developing markets. We’re proud that in Western Europe, we refilled or supported the recovery and recycling of 75 percent of bottles and cans equivalent to what we introduced in 2016.
Coca-Cola was one of the first beverage companies to introduce recycled PET (rPET) into a beverage package in 1991 and we continue to increase the use of rPET in countries where feasible and permitted.
Investing in Recycling Around the World
The Coca-Cola system has invested in state-of-the-art recycling facilities around the world. In Mexico, Coca-Cola is the largest recycler of food grade PET through our more than US$125 million investment in the development and installation of two recycling plants: IMER and PetStar. IMER, located in the State of Mexico, has processed almost 168,000 tons of PET, equivalent to 8.2 billion bottles. PetStar, the largest food grade recycling plant in the world, uses state-of-the-art technology to produce quality rPET material competitive to virgin PET resin for food and drink packaging.
More than 2 billion PET bottles—plastic bottles used to package products made by Coca-Cola and other brands—were collected and recycled in South Africa in 2016, according to South African PET recycling entity PETCO, which Coca-Cola has instrumentally been involved in since before its incorporation in 2004. The country has seen an increase in recycling rates from single digits in 2000 to 55 percent in 2016. South Africa was the first African country to use rPET for Coca-Cola products.
Innovating and Collaborating Toward Solutions
Coca-Cola has been a market leader in advancing breakthrough technologies for increasing recycled content and renewable material use. In 2009, we introduced the world to our PlantBottle™ packaging, which is PET plastic made from up to 30 percent plant-based materials, is fully recyclable, and meets the quality requirements of our core beverages. To date, we have distributed over 45 billion PlantBottle packages in 44 markets across 35 brands.
Use of Plantbottle packaging saved more than 48 million gallons of gas because petroleum is what is used to produce virgin PET, and also eliminated more than 430,000 metric tons of potential carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road.
In addition, we developed the award-winning ‘twist’ lightweight water bottle, which is on average 22 percent lighter than previous bottles, and facilitates recycling with its crushability ease. Other innovations include customer single-use transport packaging, shorter bottle necks, and ultralight metal cans.
Innovation and noteworthy progress are often driven through collaboration. In 2016, we continued to participate in collective action toward packaging solutions through work with Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Closed Loop Fund, The Recycling Partnership, Keep America Beautiful, Fost Plus, Alstoff Recycling Austria, ÇEVKO Foundation, and Ecoembes.
Learn more, including how we’re working to address marine litter locally and globally, at www.coca-colacompany.com/learn-more-about-sustainable-packaging, and read about our position on deposit return systems here.