Coca-Cola Co. reduces virgin plastic use by 20 percent in North America
Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola Co.

Coca-Cola Co. reduces virgin plastic use by 20 percent in North America

The company’s recycled-content initiatives also mean phasing out its use of green PET bottles and encouraging consumers to recycle with on-package messaging.

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February 25, 2021

coke 100% rpet 32-ounce bottle
Image courtesy of Coca-Cola Co.
Coke's new 32-ounce bottles are made fully from rPET. 

In early February, the Coca-Cola Co. announced its plans to debut a 13.2-ounce bottle in the U.S. that is made fully from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), with the exception of the label and cap, for several of its “trademark brands,” including Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero Sugar. The bottles are available initially in California, Florida and select states in the Northeast, “with other sparkling beverage brands following this summer,” the Atlanta-based soft drinks producer says.

Alpa Sutaria, vice president and general manager, sustainability, for Coca-Cola’s North America Operating Unit, says she is unable to comment on how much of the company’s portfolio the 100-percent rPET bottles represent, adding, “The amount of rPET we use across our portfolio in the U.S. ranges. We know it's important to consumers to see a bottle made from 100-percent-recycled materials, which is why we are introducing this new package.”

Coca-Cola opted to offer a 100-percent-rPET bottle rather than incrementally increase the amount of rPET used throughout its packaging based on its research. “From our extensive research, we learned that consumers wanted a bottle made of 100-percent-recycled material,” Sutaria says. “Additionally, our move to using 100-percent-rPET packaging (excluding the label and cap) decreases our use of new plastic and carbon emissions, thus accelerating progress towards our World Without Waste goals. Through our portfolio of 100-percent-rPET packaging, we are reducing the use of new plastic by more than 20 percent across the portfolio in North America compared to the amount of plastic it used to create beverage bottles in 2018.”

Development for the new 100-percent-rPET bottles took nine months, she says, resulting in a bottle that meets carbonated beverage packaging performance requirements and appeals to consumers. “We have made significant investments in our supply chain, R&D [and] technical to develop innovative, sustainable packaging solutions,” Sutaria adds.

"Improving recycling rates and ensuring that there is enough food-grade rPET will require a mix of public-private partnerships, public and private investment in infrastructure, new policy and more consumer education." -- Alpa Sutaria, vice president and general manager, sustainability, for Coca-Cola’s North America Operating Unit

The bottles have a slight tint to them compared with bottles made from virgin PET. “Clear or blue-tinted PET bottles are necessary to make new bottles made from recycled PET. All other colors of PET cannot be recycled [and] remade into bottles because it contaminates the rPET stream,” she says.

This fact has contributed to the company’s move to introduce clear bottles for Sprite, Sutaria says. The new clear bottles were introduced this month in California, Florida and parts of the Northeast, and the company says that by 2022 all plastic Sprite bottles nationwide will be clear.

She says Coca-Cola Co. is working with several suppliers to source rPET for its packaging in the U.S. “We are also continuing to invest in local recycling programs and infrastructure to help ensure that Americans can recycle our bottles and cans conveniently whether at home, at work or in public spaces, which is—in turn—recycled and reprocessed to make rPET for use in our bottles and other products.”

Sutaria says along with the bottles made fully from rPET, Coca-Cola Co. has launched its largest on-packaging messaging effort around recycling. “There will be four touchpoints of recycling messaging on our packages, including on the cap and a few messages on the label.” The new 13.2-ounce bottles will include a “Recycle Me Again” message on the label, which she says will “inspire people to take action and recycle their bottles so that they can be remade into new ones.”

Sutaria adds, “Improving recycling rates and ensuring that there is enough food-grade rPET will require a mix of public-private partnerships, public and private investment in infrastructure, new policy and more consumer education. With our industry partners and American Beverage [Association], we are joining with policymakers and other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to support well-structured producer responsibility systems that provide an efficient, financially sustainable collection program for all recyclable materials, including our bottles and cans.”