Among the highlights of Coca-Cola’s recently published 2013/2014 Sustainability Report is the progress reported by the company in the area of sustainable packaging.
As CEO Muhtar Kent wrote: “In how we operate, we’ve made great strides in our packaging initiatives with focus on recycling programs and innovations like PlantBottle packaging — the first commercially scalable plastic bottle made partially from plants.”
Coca-Cola has set the recycling bar very high, aiming for 75 percent recovery of the coca-cola sustainability reportbottles and cans introduced into developed markets by 2020 – a rate, it should be noted that has already been achieved in markets such as Japan and Belgium. The company is currently working in 36 identified markets to increase recovery and recycling rates elsewhere as well. Reducing, reusing and recycling materials are all vital to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by Coca-Cola, the report stated, as “packaging is the largest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions.”
With more than 60 percent of its beverage volume today delivered in PET packaging, the company has therefore become a pioneer in the use of recycled (rPET) plastic in bottles. Since introducing the first-ever beverage container with rPET in 1991, it has continued to invest significant funds in the development of more environmentally and economically viable recycling technologies. However, the goal of sourcing 25 percent of its PET plastic from recycled or renewable material by 2015 appears at present to be too ambitious. Demand for rPET has risen significantly, driving up prices and reducing the cost effectiveness of its use. An additional complication is the fact that food-contact regulations still restrict the use of rPET in various countries.
The use of Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle packaging, in which traditional fossil-based ingredients used to make PET plastic are replaced with renewable substitutes made from plants, continues to grow. In 2013 alone, the company distributed more than 7.5 billion PlantBottle packages, saving the equivalent emissions of more than 60,000 metric tons of CO2. Since the material’s launch in 2009 through June 2014, more than 25 billion PlantBottle packages have reached the market in nearly 40 countries resulting in more than 525,000 barrels of oil saved, according to the report.
Coca-Cola aims to have all new PET plastic it uses contain PlantBottle technology by 2020. However, the long-term goal is to develop a fully recyclable plastic bottle from 100 percent renewable sources. Already, fully plant-based bottles have been produced that meet all requirements. As the report states: Coca-Cola is now “mapping out commercial pathways for scaling the technology”. Whether this will result in packaging made of 100% plant-based PET, or in a completely different biobased solution – PEF, for example, which is based on furanics technology – still remains to be seen.