Tackling the rPET challenge by Elisabeth Skoda 17 JULY 2019

Coca-Cola European Partners recently announced that the company will be using bottles made from 100% recycled plastic for its Honest, GLACÉAU Smartwater and Chaudfontaine brands.

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The transition will to occur between the end of 2019 and 2020 and is set to replace 9,000 tonnes of virgin plastic per year across Western Europe, the company says.This is in line with Coca-Cola’s commitment that, by 2025, at least half of the plastic used in PET bottles across Western Europe will come from recycled sources.

Elisabeth Skoda catches up with with Ron Lewis, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Coca-Cola European Partners, to find out more about CCEP’s journey towards boosting recyclate use and recycling technologies.

How do you make sure you have enough recyclate available to accomodate growing demand?

Ensuring we have a reliable and plentiful supply of recycled material is critical to our business. We need a pipeline of high-quality, food-grade rPET to help us fulfil demand for our new Smartwater, Honest and Chaudfontaine 100% rPET bottles, and realise our ambition to increase the quantity of rPET we use across our whole portfolio.

We have forged long-term supply agreements with a number of partners to secure this for years to come, and we continue to work with these suppliers to support our ambitions to increase recycled content in our packaging. The latest supply agreement we have made is with Loop Industries – a technology innovator in sustainable plastic which turns low-value plastic waste into high quality PET. We will purchase 100% upcycled PET from Loop to accelerate the use of recycled materials in our bottles.

This supports our goal to ensure that at least 50% of the material we use for our PET bottles comes from recycled plastic and will help us divert more materials from landfills and build a stronger circular plastic economy. However, there is still much work to be done to build a pipeline of high-quality recycled PET at food grade standard. That’s why we are redoubling our efforts and are committed to working in partnership with government, industry and municipalities in every market we operate to improve collection and recycling rates, as well as to investing in new technologies – such as enhanced recycling – to accelerate the availability of food-grade quality rPET.

Tell us about CCEP’s investment in recycling technologies. What are your thoughts on mechanical vs enhanced recycling?

Traditional mechanical recycling methods are crucial for ensuring our bottles can be recycled properly and will remain extremely important to us. However, we don’t want to be solely reliant on these methods, so are investing heavily in enhanced recycling technologies. Innovation in the space is essential. There is so much new technology out there and it is crucial that we take advantage of it. Collaboration is something we see as extremely valuable – if there is a business that specialises in recycling technology then they should be supported and enabled.

It’s why we entered into a supply agreement with Loop Industries, and have invested in Ioniqa Technologies, supporting the scale-up of its recycling technology which transforms hard to recycle plastic waste into high quality, food-grade PET. Ioniqa recently announced the commissioning of its first 10 kiloton PET upcycling factory, representing a significant step forward in ensuring plastics can be endlessly recycled on an industrial scale.

We’ve also joined forces with recycling firm TerraCycle to trial their Loop system – a new innovative shopping system designed to reduce reliance on single-use packaging. The scheme will allow consumers to responsibly consume products in refillable packaging which is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused. We’re currently working with our customer Carrefour on a pilot scheme in Paris, using our iconic glass bottles. Read an in-depth Packaging Europe report about the scheme here.

How does the decision to go for 100% rPET fit with CCEP’s wider strategy?

Moving to 100% rPet for three of our brands directly supports our commitment to ensure that, by 2025, at least half of the plastic used in our PET bottles across Western Europe comes from recycled sources – a pledge outlined This is Forward, our sustainability action plan with The Coca-Cola Company. It is a clear signal of our ambition – we aim to not only meet this target but exceed it.

As part of This is Forward and our Action on Packaging, we are focused on reducing unnecessary plastic across the entire packaging lifecycle. We’re also committed to ensuring that all of the packaging we use is 100% recyclable; and most importantly, working to collect a bottle or can for every one that we sell so that all of the plastic we use in our bottles can be recycled and reused. Our aspiration is for none of our bottles to end up as litter or in the oceans.

Are the 100% recyclate bottles also fully recyclable – is there no danger of the recyclate becoming poorer quality?

Yes, bottles made from 100% recycled plastic are also fully recyclable. If we only used mechanical recycling, there is a risk that the recycled content may degrade over time, however enhanced recycling makes the material infinitely recyclable and that’s why we are so focused on investing in these technologies.

Is there a visual difference between the 100% rPET bottles and the mixed/virgin material ones?

There will be a slightly difference in the colour of the bottles, but this will not be particularly discernible to consumers. Elsewhere, we will be moving our Sprite bottles from the traditional green bottle to a clear plastic bottle, which can more easily be recycled bottle-to-bottle. Whilst both our Sprite green and clear bottles are 100% recyclable, green PET bottles and many other coloured PET bottles cannot be recycled back to clear through the traditional mechanical recycling method, so their future use and value has some restrictions and they are harder to recycle bottle to bottle. 

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