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The road to green recovery

Drawing from her experience, Clare Bottle, associate director of Warehousing at Coca-Cola European Partners and vice-chair of Women in Logistics UK, discusses the current challenges that come with plastic packaging usage in the UK.

As businesses and communities kick-start their recovery from the effects of COVID-19, there’s a growing emphasis on the green agenda, with sustainability likely to be high up on the list of national priorities over the coming months.

At Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) we’re committed to finding the most sustainable ways for more people to enjoy our soft drinks and have set ourselves a target to halve our direct carbon emissions by 2025. We also consider a broad range of sustainability metrics when developing our packaging strategy and because of our investments in using less packaging and more recycled content, we have reduced the amount of virgin plastic we use in our bottles by 55% since 2011. We are also replacing the plastic films on our multipacks with easy to recycle board and are committed to eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging.

Plastic is a lightweight and flexible option, which has a lower carbon impact than alternatives such as aluminium and glass. But we want to ensure that more plastic can be recovered and increase our ability to use it again and again, using recycled PET plastic (rPET) as widely as possible in our bottles.

Early recycling techniques produced a poor-quality PET which could not survive the blow-moulding process, so recycled PET was not initially suitable for making plastic bottles. But over the years this has improved dramatically, with Coca-Cola at the forefront of pushing the boundaries.

Back in 2012, CCEP invested in Clean Tech UK, the largest PET recycling facility in Europe, which enabled CCEP’s transition to 25% rPET in all plastic bottles. In subsequent years, this percentage has increased and since early 2020, preforms for CCEP’s GLACEAU Smartwater brand have been made from 100% rPET.

We’re now rolling out 50% recycled PET in our bottles across our portfolio and will have completed this transition by the end of the year, with the ultimate aim of using 100% rPET in future.

We’re also investing in CuRe whose pilot plant in the Netherlands can process even the most difficult-to-recycle waste – coloured, mixed or contaminated – pursuing the vision of PET as an infinitely recyclable material.

46_Coca-Cola_5913552_BIC_GLSMST_600_PET_FRONT_GB_D_R1 - Copy.jpgMaking a change

In order to ensure this technology can be used to its full effect, it’s important for us to drive a change in consumer incentive. Whilst recycling has become a part of everyday life, 30 million tons of litter is still collected from the streets each year here in the UK. At CCEP, we have a bold ambition to recover 100% of our packaging, and we know this can only happen by working together with our customers, shoppers and communities.

We already use our brands to encourage people to dispose of their cans and bottles more responsibly, with direct messages such as “Recycle Me” on the packaging itself and on point-of-sale materials in stores.

Collaboration with other influential groups, including politicians, is essential. CCEP has worked with the Keep Britain Tidy campaign for many years and is part of DEFRA’s litter strategy working group. We’ve also long supported the introduction of a well-designed Deposit Return Scheme – scheduled for Scotland in 2022 and in the rest of the UK after that. This is a key way of reducing litter and increasing the availability of rPET by incentivising recycling. The forthcoming Deposit Return Schemes will be a crucial tool in the UK’s fight to reduce pollution, driving up recycling rates for all kinds of packaging, including PET bottles. It’s important that all stakeholders come together to make sure the scheme works for everyone and that manufacturers, suppliers and retailers all have their voices heard loud and clear in that discussion.

The COVID-19 pandemic will bring us new insights about living safely and communally on this planet. It has already highlighted how important robust supply-chains are for our country’s economic wellbeing and for consumer trust in corporate brands. Right now, as the Scheme Administrator for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme is about to be established, logisticians across the UK must play their part in designing and implementing a joined-up, efficient, trusted reverse supply-chain. It sounds deceptively simple, but anything less will be a failure for our profession.

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