As the leader of the team responsible for overseeing how we steward the use of environmental resources in Coca-Cola’s flagship market, I am proud to support our company’s global goal to help collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging we sell by 2030.

This global goal sets out a vision for us to achieve a true "circular economy," where everything we use is designed to be reused and recycled, and very little is thrown away. We’ve been working toward this ideal for decades, but the truth is that too much packaging continues to end up in landfills and waterways rather than being recycled. That’s why we’re excited to help bring this global vision to life here in the U.S.

Here is a look at what we’re doing today in support of the goal and the work ahead of us.

Design for Reuse

Design for reuse is the foundation of a circular economy, where products and packaging are designed for future reuse and where packaging has a second life. At Coca-Cola, we design our bottles and cans to have a value beyond their original use. No matter what they become, we want to maximize their use and minimize their impact on the environment while ensuring we are meeting consumers’ desire for convenience and portability.

  • Nearly all – 99% – of our packages are recyclable in the U.S – even the caps which should be left on the bottle. We follow design standards set by organizations such as the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
  • 30% of our plastic bottles are now partially made with renewable, plant-based material and called PlantBottle™, including DASANI®, SmartWater® and Simply® beverages. PlantBottle packaging is made by converting the natural sugars found in plants into a key ingredient for making PET plastic. It reduces dependence on fossil fuels compared with traditional PET.
  • Today, our packaging includes an average of 35% of recyclable or renewable materials.

Collect and Recycle

Because our packaging has value as a recycled material, we want to ensure our bottles and cans are being collected and recycled. But in the U.S. there are challenges to recycling collection and reuse. The beverage bottle and can recycling rate nationally is under 40%. While most major cities in the U.S. have some form of recycling, only 53% of American households are provided with curbside recycling carts to enable convenient recycling at home. And, even fewer businesses, restaurants and public spaces offer recycling onsite.

In this challenge lies a tremendous opportunity for us to work with partners to help increase recycling access in communities and help drive improvements in the recycling rates, not only of our bottles and cans, but for all the recyclable products Americans use.

  • We’ve invested more than $13 million to support innovative partnerships that bring curbside recycling programs to communities, help educate Americans on where to recycle, and support large-scale recycling infrastructure.
  • In partnership with The Closed Loop Fund, The Recycling Partnership and Keep America Beautiful and others, we’ve helped support the placement of 1 million recycling carts and bins diverting more than 700 million pounds of recyclables from landfills in 2017.
  • In partnership with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, we are working to roll out the How2Recycle® Label on much of our packaging to help remind people that our packages can and should be recycled.
  • Through Keep America Beautiful, we’ve supported recycling education and promotion programs at college campuses.
  • Through the Recycling Partnership we are helping to educate Americans on what they can recycle in their curbside recycling program.
Bruce Karas works with the Recycling Partnership and City of Atlanta to help educate and inform residents about recycling.

Reuse to Close the Loop

The final step in a circular economy is reuse where the bottles and cans that are collected are returned to be reused in our own supply chain – as another bottle or can or for other uses such as fabric, carpet and building and packaging materials. We piloted our first closed loop system in the U.S. last summer in St. Louis with a one of our local partners. Coca-Cola volunteers joined Living Lands & Waters, to help clean up part of the Mississippi River. The collected recyclables were transported to a nearby recycling facility and ground into fine plastic material for reuse. Our suppliers then purchased the recycled material for use back into our bottles. This closed loop system is a model for how we want to grow sustainably and responsibly.

We are going to continue these pilots as we work to identify ways to scale and replicate these successes. But, we know that’s not enough. We intend to increase our investments with our partners in the coming years as we identify the most successful and sustainable programs that we can help scale and expand.

We can’t do this alone. We will need to partner with local communities, our customers, associates, industry and consumers everywhere to help make sure our packaging doesn’t end up where it doesn’t belong. We all have a role to play, and I hope you’ll join us in making this sustainable packaging vision a reality.

Bruce Karas is VP, Sustainability and Environment, Coca-Cola North America.