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Coke’s Pledge: Collect & Recycle Same Number of Bottles We Sell (Even If They’re Not Ours)

Credit: Coca-Cola Company

The Coca-Cola Company recently launched a new initiative to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030. The ambitious plan, called World Without Waste, will focus on the full packaging lifecycle from initial design to repurposing and recycling.

“We believe in the circular economy, where plastic, glass, and aluminum are reused many times instead of being used once and thrown away,” Coca-Cola president and CEO James Quincey wrote in an op-ed for Medium.

The company, which has been criticized by environmentalists for producing billions of plastic bottles that head to landfills and waterways, adopted a broad approach to addressing waste. “Coca-Cola, rather than taking on the difficult task of recollecting all of its own bottles, aims to collect an amount of bottles equivalent to what it produces,” the Wall Street Journal’s Cara Lombardo reported.

In order to achieve this goal, the company is taking several steps. One is investing in marketing recycling to make the process easier — sharing what, how, and where to recycle packaging, Quincey said on Medium.

The beverage company will rely on partnerships with organizations to help tackle existing waste. Back in 2002, Coca-Cola bottlers in Mexico came together with industry leaders to create a nonprofit called Ecology and Corporate Commitment (ECOCE) that promotes recycling, and established two food-grade PET plastic recycling facilities, according to the company.

“These investments are paying off,” Coca-Cola’s Jay Moye wrote online. “In 2016, Mexico recycled 57% of the PET plastic it produced, up from 9% in 2002, making it the leading country globally for PET recycling.”

Other partners include the Ocean Conservancy/Trash Free Seas Alliance, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. A longtime partnership with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup effort mobilized 20 million people to clean more than 220 million pounds of trash from coastlines.

Packaging materials — plastic in particular — will also play a significant role in the World Without Waste plan. The company intends to produce bottles with an average of 50% recycled material by 2030, Lombardo reported. Last summer, Coca-Cola Great Britain announced an accelerated plan to get to 50% by 2020.

The company is making inroads with plastic made from non-petroleum sources. Since 2009, Coca-Cola has been producing PlantBottle packaging containing up to 30% plant-based materials. In 2015, they worked with biotech companies to produce the first fully recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles made entirely from plant materials on a demonstration scale.

“Making our bottles and cans more sustainable and recyclable is only part of the answer,” Quincey wrote. “If something can be recycled, it should be recycled.”

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