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Beverage brands bank on rPET for packaging sustainability

Coca-Cola European Partners commits to 100% recycled plastic bottles for Honest teas, Glacéau Smartwater and Chaudfontaine brands—and to trialling refillable glass bottles.

 

Different continents, different tactics.

In August, Packaging Digest reported Coca-Cola Co.’s new broad-based sustainable packaging plan for Dasani packaged water that includes major moves into hybrid bottles and aluminum cans (see Dasani’s next 5 steps to greater packaging sustainability).

The company’s counterpart in Europe, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), is taking a different, more concentrated path to greater sustainability.

Earlier this summer and together with The Coca-Cola Co., CCEP announced that Honest teas, Glacéau Smartwater and Chaudfontaine bottled water brands will be sold in bottles made from 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) plastic. The rollout planned before the end of 2019 and into 2020, will eliminate the need for 9,000 tonnes/9,920 tons of virgin plastic yearly across Western Europe.

The initiative directly supports the organizations’ joint sustainability action commitment, This is Forward, that pledges that by 2025 at least half of the plastic used in PET bottles across Western Europe will come from recycled sources.

CCEP’s ambitious plan is also remarkable for its scope: CCEP is the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler, operating in 13 countries and distributing branded beverages to more than 300 million consumers.

Joe Franses, CCEP VP, Sustainability, discloses details about the company’s landmark program in packaging sustainability. 

What set this in motion and what’s involved?

Franses: Managing the sustainability of our packaging is one of the biggest issues facing our business. Too much packaging waste ends up as litter on our streets or polluting our rivers and oceans.

And, as a beverage industry leader, we understand that we are part of the problem and need to do more to tackle it. 

Moving our Chaudfontaine, Honest and Smartwater brands to 100% rPET is a significant step on this journey and involves every element of our business, from finance to supply chain. This will help us to remove 9,000 tonnes of virgin plastic across Western Europe each year and it directly supports our commitment to ensure that, by 2025, at least half of the plastic used in our PET bottles across Western Europe comes from recycled sources.

This pledge—which is outlined in our sustainability action plan with The Coca-Cola Company “This is Forward”—will help us to build a strong circular economy for beverage packaging, where plastic can be collected, recycled and reused.

This major move would not have been possible without our PET resin suppliers. To roll out bottles made from 100% recycled plastic across three of our brands has required building a pipeline of high-quality, food-grade rPET to help us fulfil demand. To secure a reliable supply of 100% rPET for years to come, we’ve forged long-term supply agreements with a number of partners including Loop Industries—a technology innovator in sustainable plastic that turns low-value plastic waste into high-quality PET. Loop Industries will play a crucial role in helping us to source significant quantities of high-quality food-grade rPET to use in our 100% rPET bottles.

We will purchase 100% upcycled PET from Loop to accelerate the use of recycled materials in our bottles, which will be crucial to helping us expand the use of recycled plastic in bottles across our whole portfolio.

Why is the timing good for using rPET?

Franses: The plastic problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and we know we need to do more to tackle it–and faster. That’s why we’re redoubling our efforts to make our packaging more sustainable and realize our goal of ensuring that all our bottles can enjoy a second life. Our ambition is for none of our bottles to end up as litter or in the oceans.

Currently, around one-third of the plastic we use is recycled plastic; we expect to achieve and exceed our target of getting to half of our plastic will be rPET by 2025. We will start to rollout the new rPET bottles at the start of 2020. From then onwards, wherever consumers find Chaudfontaine, Honest and Smartwater across Western Europe, they can buy them in bottles made from 100% recycled plastic.

What are the bottles made of now? What will be the status by the end of 2019?

Franses: In 2017, 24.6% of all the plastic that we used for our bottles came from recycled materials and in 2018 that figure increased to 27.6% in 2018. By 2020 every Honest, Glacéau Smartwater or Chaudfontaine bottle will be sold in 100% rPET bottles. To achieve this from the end of 2019, we will begin distributing 100% rPET bottles across Europe.

We have worked hard to ensure the highest quality food grade rPET is available to make this transition to 100% rPET for these three products with no impact on quality or recyclability.

 

What’s the cost of these efforts?

Franses: Today, rPET is more expensive than virgin PET, but it’s a resource that we have invested in for many years.

How will this program be promoted?

Franses: The move will be communicated via multiple channels, including on social media, traditional media and on-bottle messaging encouraging consumers to recycle the products.

Next: Partnerships, Sprite changes, refillable bottles and more

Please comment further on the role of partnerships.

Franses: Partnerships are a crucial part of our work in this area. There are companies out there dedicated to solving these problems and by working with them we not only empower them to grow and advance their own technology, but we are able to use the best technology possible.

Besides our investment in Loop Industries to purchase a supply of 100% rPET plastic, we have also invested in Ioniqa Technologies in supporting the scale-up of its recycling technology that transforms hard to recycle plastic waste into high quality, food-grade PET. [You can read the press release about the announcement here.]

We’re also looking carefully at new zero-waste business models that provide an alternative to single-use packaging.

Earlier this year, we joined forces with recycling firm TerraCycle to trial Loop, an innovative new shopping system designed to reduce reliance on single-use packaging. The scheme will allow consumers to use refillable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and then reused (see image above). We’re working with our customer, retailer Carrefour in Paris, on a pilot scheme using our iconic glass bottles.

Elsewhere, we also support major litter clean-up campaigns through local partnerships with Mares Circulares and Ecomar Foundation in Spain and Portugal; Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Keep Wales Tidy in the UK; and Mooimakers and Wallonie Plus Propre in Belgium.

On a related matter: What’s the reasoning to change the Sprite brand from green bottles to clear PET?

Franses: The movement of Sprite bottles from the traditional green bottle to a clear plastic bottle is that it’s more easily recycled bottle-to-bottle.

While both our green and clear plastic bottles are 100% recyclable, green PET bottles and many other colored PET bottles cannot be recycled back to clear plastic through the traditional mechanical recycling process. This means that future use and the long-term value have some restrictions; it’s harder to use green PET bottles to make new bottles.

By transitioning to clear PET bottles, we will remove this constraint.

We’re continuing to work in partnership with government, industry and waste management partners in every market we operate to improve collection and recycling rates, as well as investing in new technologies, such as enhanced recycling, to accelerate the availability of food-grade quality rPET.

What else would you like to say to Packaging Digest readers?

Franses: Both Honest and Glacéau Smartwater have a huge following in the U.S., while being relatively young brands in Europe. We have ambitious growth plans for both of these brands, as we continue to broaden our portfolio to offer consumers different drinks to meet changing tastes and lifestyles.  As we invest to grow these brands, we are committed to doing so sustainably. This is a clear signal of ambition in terms of our wider portfolio. We have a stated target to reach 50% rPET across our total portfolio, a goal we hope to meet and exceed by 2025. 


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