Coca-Cola is bringing ‘100%’ recycled plastic bottles to Canada.Whag does that mean?
All 500-millilitre bottles of Coke, Sprite, Fanta and other sparkling beverage brands from Coca-Cola in Canada will be made entirely of recycled plastic — except for the cap and label — by early 2024.
That’s expected to save 3,000 tonnes of PET plastic (polyethene terephthalate, identified with the “resin code” No. 1) and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 7,000 tonnes in 2024 alone, Coca-Cola Canada said in a news release announcing the change last week.
A green strip on the new labels reads: “I’m a 100% recycled bottle” — something that at least one environmental consulting company thinks is misleading because of the non-recycled cap and label.
According to Kurt Ritter, vice-president and general manager of sustainability for Coca-Cola in Canada and the U.S., the goal isn’t just to cut environmental impacts — it’s also to address scepticism about recycling, partly because of reports that plastic collected for recycling often isn’t recycled.
“It’s a proof point that recycling works,” Ritter said.
Last year, Coca-Cola turned to recycled PET for its Dasani water bottles and has launched recycled bottles for sparkling beverages in select U.S. cities and some countries in Europe. The company’s goal is that by 2030, 50 per cent of its packaging will be made with recycled materials, and one bottle or can be collected for recycling for each one it produces. (Some research has found that aluminium cans are greener than plastic bottles, while other research has found the opposite.)
Coca-Cola’s transition to recycled plastic has been gradual, thanks to a shortage of recycled PET available. Recycled plastic drink bottles have been relatively uncommon on the market until now.
The National Association for PET Container Resources, a packaging trade organization that encompasses the U.S., Canada and Mexico, reports that although recyclers collected record numbers of bottles and other PET containers in 2020, the North American recycling rate for PET was just 36.8 per cent that year.
Beverage makers also face competition for recycled PET from manufacturers who use it to make textiles such as polyester clothing and carpets.
Ritter said Coca-Cola has managed to source enough of the material for the new bottles in Canada and the U.S., and they’ll be manufactured in Canada.
The company is also taking steps to increase PET supply through efforts such as switching all its green Sprite bottles to clear plastic (which is more easily recycled) and pushing for bottle deposits in places like Ontario. (For those who don’t know, these are fees paid by shoppers when they buy products in recyclable containers; they get the deposit back when empties are returned to a drop-off location for recycling.)
Bottle deposit programs consistently yield the highest return rate for recycling and the cleanest material, said Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of the Circular Innovation Council, a national group trying to create a circular economy that includes plastics.
Deposit programs for plastic bottles exist in all provinces and territories except Nunavut, Manitoba and Ontario (which has deposits for alcoholic beverages only), although Ontario is considering the idea. This week, Quebec added deposits to more containers and increased some deposit fees to encourage more people to return them.
St. Godard said Coca-Cola’s commitment to recycled plastic bottles will create a demand and higher value for recycled materials, and that’s key to making recycling systems work.
However, she added that the company also needs to track and report on whether it fulfilled its promise. “They need to show people they’re doing it.”
Consumers also need to do their part by looking for and buying these bottles, she said. “Rewarding this kind of commitment is important.”
St. Godard emphasized that consumers need to put empty containers in the recycling or return them to ensure they get turned into other bottles.
She also encouraged Canadians to look beyond single-use containers — especially non-recyclable ones — and for opportunities to refill and reuse the products they buy.
Coca-Cola says it will serve 25 per cent of its products in reusable packaging, including returnable bottles and refillable cups, by 2030.