That Coca-Cola beverage in your hand? Whether it’s glass, plastic or aluminum, chances are the bottle or can you’re holding is fully recyclable. In the U.S. and around the world, Coca-Cola is working to close the loop by designing more resource-efficient packaging, supporting community recycling systems, and boosting use of renewable materials through innovation.

We caught up with our resident expert, Sarah Dearman, who leads sustainable packaging initiatives for Coca-Cola in the U.S., to learn more. Take a look:

What types of beverage packages do you find in the U.S.?

Most of our beverages are in aluminum cans, plastic bottles (predominantly polyethylene terephthalate plastic or PET for short) or glass bottles. Each package has its own benefit. For example, I love a plastic bottle when I’m on the go so I can easily put the cap back on and I don’t have to worry about it spilling. Cans are great for my fridge at home so I can stack them and have a variety of options easily accessible. It’s great to experience the nostalgia of a Coke in a glass bottle. There are also a few specialty packages like juice boxes – which my kids love – cartons and pouches.

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Which ones are recyclable?

Nearly all – 99% – of our packages are fully recyclable. Aluminum cans, PET plastic bottles and glass bottles are accepted for recycling in most communities in the United States that offer recycling. Cartons and juice boxes are also now accepted in many places, as well. We are still working with the industry to find the best solution for pouches and other flexible packages.

What about the caps (on cans and bottles)?

Empty your beverage and put the cap back on. Recycling is that easy. This is a long standing question which has caused a lot of confusion over the years. I was relieved when the industry, through the Association of Plastic Recyclers, provided the clear guidance that caps should be left on so they too can be recycled.

What about PlantBottle packaging. What packages have it?  What is special about it?

More than 25 percent of our PET plastic in the U.S. is now in PlantBottle™ Packaging. PlantBottle packaging is made with up to 30 percent plant-based materials and is still fully recyclable just like traditional PET plastic. Dasani, smartwater, Simply and a few other beverages can largely be found in PlantBottle packages. This contributes to The Coca-Cola Company being one of the largest users of bioplastics in the world. This is a really exciting innovation that is helping us lower the carbon footprint of our packaging. 

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Why the difference in the packaging? Is one better than the other?

Our packages are thoughtfully designed to meet people’s needs for different occasions whether at home or on the go. They each have benefits. PET plastic has a lower carbon footprint when using renewable materials like our PlantBottle packaging as compared to traditional PET, which is is 100 percent fossil fuel based. Aluminum is widely respected for its high recycling value. Glass can be endlessly recycled.

What about secondary packaging like fridge packs, shrink wraps?

Recycling gets a bit more confusing when you get to our secondary packaging. That’s why we are expanding our use of the How2Recycle label which clearly communicates recycling instructions. For example, the paper boxes are widely accepted for recycling. However, the plastic film wraps need to be taken back to stores that collect plastic film for recycling. This is important since plastic film, whether it be plastic grocery bags or shrink wrap, is one of the largest contaminants for recycling centers.

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Keep America Beautiful and Coca-Cola help people recycle on the go with these bins in Phoenix. 

What is the recycling rate in the U.S.? What is Coca-Cola doing to help improve those numbers?

According to the most recent report from the U.S. EPA, the national recycling rate is 34.6%. It has been increasing, up from 10.1% in 1985. We believe that it can and should be significantly higher. That’s why we are collaborating with others through great organizations like The Recycling Partnership, Closed Loop Fund and Keep America Beautiful. Together, we are helping to increase access to recycling. Combined, the Coca-Cola System has helped place more than 900,000 recycling carts and bins across North America since 2007. We also support a variety of recycling education initiatives reaching millions of people every year.

What else can be done to keep waste from going to the landfill?

Most importantly, we need everyone to recycle all the time. Whether at home, work, school or on the go, make sure to find a recycling bin to put your recyclables in. Become a recycling champion by finding out exactly what can be recycled in your location and encouraging everyone else to recycle right. If you don’t have recycling yet, reach out to your community leaders and let them know you would like to have it.

What about marine litter? What are you doing to address it?

Trash ending up in our oceans and waterways is devastating. We want to be part of the solution. For years, we have been worked with organizations like the Ocean Conservancy in support of initiatives such as the Trash Free Seas Alliance and International Coastal Cleanup. We are also working with a unique organization called Living Lands and Waters to help clean up the Mississippi River. Together, we are making sure the collected material is recycled, even using it in our own packaging. Recycling is one of the key ways we can all help address marine litter to give packaging another life and keep it out of the environment. We plan to continue to do more to ensure that our packages are recycled and reused.