News & Events

Thursday 21 March, 2019

Our once in a generation opportunity to transform our approach to plastics recycling

Joe Franses - Vice President, Sustainability, Coca-Cola European Partners

Tackling packaging waste and plastic pollution is a major global challenge, the size and scale of which is well documented. The return of the BBC’s Blue Planet to our TV screens in the UK will once again serve as an important reminder of the environmental damage that can occur if we don’t manage our plastic waste properly.

Put simply, far too much plastic waste - including PET bottles used for our drinks - ends up as litter on our streets or polluting our rivers and oceans. It shouldn’t be this way, especially for PET bottles, which are designed to be collected and recycled as part of a closed loop, circular system. Whilst some countries in Western Europe already achieve high collection and recycling rates, the reality in Great Britain is very different, with approximately 40% of drinks bottles not collected for recycling.

This is a huge waste of a highly valuable resource. Every bottle we use at Coca-Cola is carefully designed for recyclability and has a value far beyond its initial use. Yet we need to significantly upscale our collective efforts to get our plastic drinks bottles back and ensure that they can be recycled.

At Coca-Cola as part of our global World Without Waste strategy and our Western European sustainability action plan, This is Forward, we’ve set ourselves a target of 100% packaging collection – a bottle or can for every one we sell – by the end of 2025. We believe this is possible, but only if we have the right collection systems in place. That is why we are supporting the introduction of well-designed deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and cans in both England and Scotland as well as in other markets in Western Europe.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform our approach to plastics recycling. To ensure that we put in place a collection system for plastic drinks bottles that demonstrates the value of a closed-loop, circular system and establishes a future-fit, valuable supply chain for recycled PET.

At Coca-Cola we’ve been involved in supporting plastic reprocessing for many years. We were one of the first businesses to include recycled plastic in our packaging. Today approximately 28% of the PET we use in Western Europe is made from recycled plastic. We are aiming to increase that to 50% by the end of 2025, and sooner in many markets like Great Britain.

We also want to move away from relying only on traditional mechanical recycling processes to clean, melt and reprocess plastic waste. We are now investing in enhanced recycling technologies, and partnerships with companies like Loop Industries, to turn low-value plastic waste, including ocean plastics, into food-grade PET which can be used again in our drinks bottles.

We’re also looking carefully at new zero-waste business models which provide an alternative to single-use packaging. In May we’ll begin working in Paris with Carrefour and Terracycle on Loop, a new circular shopping platform that will enable our iconic glass bottles to be enjoyed at home and then collected, cleaned, refilled and reused, alongside other durable packaging.

I joined The Telegraph Plastic Sustainability Summit to discuss many of these topics. The challenge of plastic waste is huge and one that requires strong collaboration from stakeholders across the entire plastics value chain. The Summit provided a great opportunity to bring people together and reflect on the change that is required to make tangible progress.

I heard a collective desire to drive significant change. Platforms like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, the UK Plastics Pact and the French National Pact on Plastic Recycling provide a strong signal that change is possible. That it is possible to eliminate unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging, that we can build a circular, closed loop model for recyclable plastic like our PET bottles and that we can find innovative new reusable business models that reduce the need for plastic in the first place.

However, to be successful in transforming the “end of life” phase for plastic bottles we are all going to have to do more, think differently and be prepared to embrace solutions that we may not have supported in the past – and that includes Coca-Cola.

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