Why we’re working towards a World Without Waste

The Coca-Cola Company recently introduced its new ‘World Without Waste’ global packaging vision. Tim Brett, President of Coca-Cola Western Europe outlines how the company aims to lead the way in helping tackle the world’s packaging problem and how he believes this better future is possible.

How severe is the current environmental challenge with plastics and packaging?

It’s quite clear the world has a serious packaging problem. Some of the statistics are staggering. It is estimated that every hour 900 metric tons of plastic waste enters our oceans and the UN Environment agency fears that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the seas. Some may question the exact data but you don’t need to be a marine biologist to realize the current situation will have grave long-term consequences. Anyone who has seen bottles on beaches or images of marine life suffering will instinctively understand that we need to act. We’re very conscious that like many companies we use plastic packaging and therefore we contribute to this challenge. We are committing to measurable, meaningful action.

Can you explain your new packaging vision?

We have a global goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of our packaging by 2030. We’re also renewing our plans to both make all packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 and make bottles with 50% recycled content by 2030. In Western Europe we aim to achieve these targets by 2025. These are two sides of the same coin that will see us investing in our packaging and investing in our planet. Food and beverage containers are an important part of modern lives but we recognize that we must do more to help build a circular economy.

Are such ambitious targets achievable?

These targets are achievable but not easy. It’s a complex problem. Our strategy has three core elements– design, collect and partner. Design better packages and explore package-free options for our beverages. Collect by working with communities to find better ways of collecting and recycling packaging. We will support this through channeling investment towards helping people understand what, how and where to recycle. Partner refers to identifying areas where we can work better with all stakeholders, new organisations, to create healthier, debris-free environments and oceans.

How does the European landscape differ from the global view?

In some aspects Europe is ahead of some other geographies. For example, on average 72% of all PET packages used in Europe are collected and recycled. However, the recovery and recycling picture varies significantly across Europe and we must not be complacent. We have work to do in some countries to bring them up to the recovery percentage of the top performers. Furthermore we have the opportunity in Europe to lead by example. By improving the situation in Europe we can prove what can be achieved elsewhere. Our franchise partners in Europe, Coca-Cola Hellenic and Coca-Cola European Partners have made tremendous progress in environmental areas. For example just a few months ago The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola European Partners co-developed a sustainability action plan called ‘This Is Forward’, details of which can be found at https://www.ccep.com/pages/thisisforward

What’s your perspective on the EU Plastics Strategy?

We’re encouraged by the Commission’s push to reduce waste and increase the recycling of plastics, and we believe we’re largely aligned with its ambitions such as the need to build a more circular economy. We also share similar views on improving the economics of recycling so that more material is re-used. No single company or organization can solve this problem alone and we firmly believe in the positive power of partnerships across the triangle of public sector, private sector and civil society.

So, what’s the solution to this challenge?

There is no single solution. Looking across Europe we see a variety of current approaches ranging from bottle deposit return systems in Germany or Scandinavia through to kerbside collection in Belgium. We are not starting from scratch anywhere and it’s important to design and enhance whatever local approaches are already proving effective. Collection models have to make it simple for consumers while also being sustainable for governments and industry.

Have you made progress to date?

We’ve been working in these areas for years and have momentum. For more than two decades we’ve been working with The Ocean Conservancy on International Coastal Cleanups and we support Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others. We’ve also made real progress in making packaging lighter, 100% recyclable and introduced innovations such as PlantBottle™ as well as increased use of rPET. These have been significant steps but our new strategy is a step-change in the scope and scale of our ambitions.

style="font-size: 150%;"What do you say to people who call for an end to all single-use plastics?

I understand why people look for simple solutions. However, the problem is complex and no one single packaging type is wholly responsible for the world’s pollution problem. Even within ‘plastics’ there are multiple types. Beverage companies mainly use PET. PET is light to transport, convenient and suits modern lives. It’s also 100% recyclable and therefore we should not see it as ‘single-use’ or disposable. An empty bottle has value and if we get our strategy right then there will be no single-use bottles again. When we collect a bottle or can they will be reprocessed and reused in a variety of different products helping spur the circular economy.

What gives you confidence your World Without Waste ambitions are possible?

Well, we’ve set similarly ambitious targets in the past and have a good track-record in achieving them. For example, we committed to replenish 100% of water we use in our drinks and achieved that five years ahead of schedule. We have also economically enabled 2.4 million women entrepreneurs in our global 5by20 program. The other thing that gives me great confidence is the energy and passion of our people. We’re all very proud of our drinks but none of us likes seeing bottles on the street, beaches or anywhere else. Time and time again I see the great things that can be achieved when we mobilize the power of our tens of thousands of employees across Europe.

As first appeared in Politico, April 2018