Coca-Cola is introducing new bottles made from 100% recycled plastic material across its portfolio, the beverage giant said in a statement. Its new innovations will reduce the use of new plastic by more than 20% compared to 2018.
Coca-Cola said the new packaging will be gradually rolled out during the first half of the year in select states for brands including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola flavors, Fanta, Sprite and Dasani. The company is creating a new smaller 13.2-ounce bottle size for many of its soft drinks that will used the recycled plastic, but will use recycled plastic in some 20-ounce bottles as well. Smartwater will introduce 18-ounce aluminum bottles this month and 20-ounce bottles made from recyclable material in July.
The Atlanta-based beverage giant is the among several companies in the food and beverage space looking to improve its environmental footprint by reducing its use of plastic, recycling more of the material or transitioning other offerings to aluminum.
As consumers make decisions based not only on what's inside a package, but on the actual packaging itself, food and beverage companies have been moving aggressively to give that packaging more attention.
Spirits maker Bacardi is moving to bottle all its brands in 100% biodegradable plastic packaging made with plant-based oils by 2023, and Rebbl is transitioning to 100% recycled and recyclable plastic bottles for all of its 12-ounce organic plant-based beverages. Diageo partnered to launch sustainable packaging company Pulpex Limited, and the spirits giant will be testing paper bottles. And Vita Coco is launching a water line packaged in aluminum cans.
Coca-Cola's archrival PepsiCo pledged to reduce virgin plastic content across its beverage business by 35% by 2025. The company is working to make 100% of its packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025, which reportedly was about 90% complete as of last July. The company is partnering with Diageo's Pulpex Limited initiative to develop and scale paper bottles for its beverages.
For Coca-Cola, recyclable plastic is a major step in helping the soda, tea, water and sports drink maker achieve its own sustainability goals. In 2018, Coca-Cola pledged to collect and recycle the equivalent of a bottle or can for every one it sells by 2030, make 100% of its packaging recyclable by 2025 and use 50% recycled material in the company's bottles and cans by 2030.
As food and beverage companies switch to sustainable packaging, it's more than just an altruistic move. A study released last September by Shorr Packaging found 47% of respondents said they relied on packaging to inform their purchase of brands they were previously unfamiliar with during the prior three months. At the same time, 58% were likely or very likely to purchase food products in packages that clearly stated they are recyclable or reusable.
A shift toward recycled plastic may be a way to maintain the presence of the material for beverage makers while playing a role in reducing the company's impact on the environment. Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's head of sustainability, told the BBC in early 2020 the company would not stop using plastic; consumers like it because they’re able to reseal their beverages and the packaging is lightweight. She also said getting rid of plastic altogether and using only aluminum and glass packaging could push up the company's carbon footprint and hurt sales.
While plastic packaging is liked for its affordable cost and ability to keep products fresh, endure temperature changes, it is bad for the environment. While 396 million tons of plastics are produced annually worldwide, recycled PET accounts for only about 12% to 14% of plastic packaging, according to estimates. Along with turning to more recyclable plastic in their packaging, Coca-Cola and other companies need to get consumers to follow through on actually recycling their bottles rather than tossing them in the trash.
As the largest on-pack messaging effort ever taken on by Coca-Cola, the company said each 100% recyclable bottle will feature a “Recycle Me Again” message on the label to inspire people to take action so the packages can be remade into new ones.
Kate Melges, Greenpeace USA senior plastics campaigner, said while moving to recycled content will help reduce the need for producing some new fossil fuel plastic, it is not enough to meaningfully curtail the cycle of plastic production and pollution. An anti-plastic group, Break Free From Plastic, recently named Coca-Cola the world’s worst plastic polluter, she noted. "If Coke wants to make real news, it should announce that it is finally ending its reliance on plastics altogether," Melges said in a statement.