GENSHAGEN, GERMANY -- Ninety-nine percent. It's a statistic Karolin Övünc is especially proud of, and for good reason. She points to a board hanging above containers filled with reusable materials that reads: “Everything has value.”

Coca-Cola has been producing beverages at Genshagen near Berlin in the district of Teltow-Fläming, since 1998. The plant is one of the most modern in Germany, and one of the most efficient in the world when it comes to sustainable water use.

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As with all Coca-Cola bottling plants in Germany, the Genshagen facility runs exclusively on energy from renewable sources. On average, 94 percent of reusable materials generated on site in all Coca-Cola facilities in Germany are recycled -- which, by all accounts, is a good metric.

But good is sometimes not good enough.

Övünc has worked for Coca-Cola since 2003. After training as an industrial manager, she completed a course in industrial engineering. Today she is in charge of production planning and materials management in Genshagen. In 2015, she took on a pilot project for the circular economy in Genshagen, working closely with recycling expert Interseroh.

Her goal? To further optimize the recovery of reusable materials left over after production. Since then, Övünc has identified more than 50 reusable materials, including four types of paper and eight types of foil and plastics. There are more than 300 containers for reusable materials on site, and 99 percent of all production waste is recycled or upcycled. 

Övünc and the entire plant team are proud of these figures, which have been certified by the independent environmental institute, bifa.

Increasing the responsible treatment of renewable and reusable resources is a key sustainabiliy focus for Coca-Cola. “How would it be if we started to see the collection of reusable materials as a new way of extracting raw materials?" said Ulrike Sapiro, the company’s director of sustainability in Europe. "Our packaging should not only be lighter and simpler, but should also be part of the value chain.”

In 2015, Coca-Cola introduced a new form of packaging in Germany made entirely from recycled PET plastic bottles. Now, a bottle becomes another bottle without the need for new raw materials. Coca-Cola won a German Packaging Award for the breakthrough innovation.

Already, 95 percent of Coca-Cola plastic bottles are recycled in Germany. Thus, the materials cycle continues to close.

“We have already achieved a great deal,” says Sapiro. “But our aim is to require even less raw materials, possibly none at all.”

Coca-Cola produces and fills up to 76,000 bottles an hour in Genshagen, around 250 million per year. When Övünc started the project to find alternative recyclable materials, there was one sentence that she heard particularly often from suppliers and disposal companies: “No one has ever asked that.”

In the future, this process for optimizing the recycling of reusable materials will be adopted by other Coca-Cola plants. A team in Karlsruhe has already started implementing it. And, in the meantime, Övünc looks forward to sharing all the answers she has.