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Coca-Cola North America moves green bottles to clear plastic in food-grade recyclate boost

August 7, 2022
Energy & Chemical Value Chain

Coca-Cola in North America is transitioning its green plastic beverage portfolio to clear PET bottles to improve recyclability and support the availability of food-grade recyclate.

Yesterday, the Sprite brand began shifting its signature green color bottles to clear alternatives. In the coming months, Coca-Cola North America’s entire green plastic portfolio – including Fresca, Seagram’s and Mello Yello – will also transition to clear PET.

Although green PET is recyclable, the recyclate is often converted into single-use items like clothes and carpets that cannot be recycled into new PET bottles. During the sorting process, green and other colored PET is separated from clear material to avoid discoloring the recyclate required to make new PET bottles.

“Taking colors out of bottles improves the quality of the recycled material. This transition will help increase the availability of food-grade recycled PET (rPET). When recycled, clear PET Sprite bottles can be remade into bottles, helping drive a circular economy for plastic,” says Julian Ochoa, CEO at R3cycle.

Legislative pressures
Coca-Cola has pledged to use at least 50% recycled material in its bottles and cans by 2030 as part of its World Without Waste initiative. The targets come against a backdrop of increasingly stringent plastic pollution legislation in the US.

In July, California signed a new “Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act,” which will impose the country’s most stringent plastic reduction, recycling and infrastructural development funding requirements on the industry.

Also, New York is introducing two new bills to combat over-packaging, poor recycling rates and litter issues, including an Extended Producer Responsibility program requiring companies to pay for packaging disposal and recycling.

Coca-Cola’s Dasani water brand is rolling out bottles made entirely from rPET (excluding the caps and label) to boost circularity in North America.

Pressure on multinational FMCGs to address plastic pollution is also a growing consumer concern. According to Innova Market Insights, 20% of US consumers believe large F&B companies contribute most to the global plastic pollution crisis, behind consumer behavior (33%) but ahead of packaging suppliers (16%).

Meanwhile, major brands have once again been accused of greenwashing their plastic packaging, with a new interactive website set up by the Changing Markets Foundation describing how companies like Coca-Cola dupe consumers into believing their products are environmentally sustainable.

Overcoming rPET shortages
Most Dasani bottles in the US – from 20 oz and 1.5 L singles to 10 oz and 12 oz multipacks – will move to 100% rPET this summer. In Canada, this transition will span all Dasani bottles. The shift supports the brand’s pledge to remove the equivalent of two billion virgin plastic bottles from production by 2027 compared to 2021.

The brand’s transition to 100% recycled plastic is projected to save more than 20 million pounds of new plastic compared to 2019 and cut more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2023. Producing bottles from recycled plastic uses less energy than virgin PET.

The Dasani announcement follows the launch of 100% recycled plastic bottles in New York, California and Texas, including Coca-Cola Trademark 20 oz bottles, which helped Coca-Cola identify the best-quality sources of rPET and fine-tune production processes.

“Demand for rPET currently exceeds supply, so the first step to scaling up the use of 100% rPET across our portfolio is building a sustainable pipeline of high-quality material,” says Chris Vallette, senior vice president of Technical Innovation and Stewardship at Coca-Cola North America.

“We do this by working with communities to boost PET recycling and collection, collaborating with recycling partners and, finally, securing rPET to help ensure the material for our bottles is used again and again.”

PET “downcycling” concerns are widespread, with the European soft drinks industry calling for priority access to rPET earlier in the year.

Message on a bottle
The initial Dasani launch helped drive consumer awareness through bold, on-pack “100% Recycled Bottle” and “Recycle Me Again” calls-to-action, which were also used on retail signage and other communications. Dasani bottles will continue to feature this messaging.

“We saw how much the 100% rPET message truly resonates with our customers and consumers, particularly Dasani fans whose sustainability expectations are especially high,” continues Vallette.

Likewise, Sprite is also introducing a new visual identity system featuring a revamped logo and packaging design to provide “a consistent look and voice around the world.” The bottle’s graphics will retain the brand’s recognizable green hue and include prominent “Recycle Me” messaging.

Earlier in the year, Coca-Cola announced a target to sell 25% of all beverages globally across its brands portfolio in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles, or refillable containers through traditional fountains or Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers, by 2030.

By Joshua Poole


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