It’s hard to imagine given the current debate, but there are many benefits of using plastic if you make packaged goods. It is light, safe, clean, low carbon and very effective at protecting the quality of products – essential if you make something for human consumption. But there is a downside to plastic too: if it is not disposed of properly after use, it creates litter and can damage the environment.
All of our bottles and cans have been 100% recyclable for some time now but we know they don’t all end up that way - as it stands 70% of all cans and 57% of all bottles are recycled in Great Britain. These figures should be much higher and I believe we can play a role in improving the numbers. Since last year we’ve been working out how best to do that.
The result of this work is a new strategy that we’re launching in Great Britain today. At its heart is an ambition to see all of our packaging recovered and recycled, so none of it is littered or ends up where it shouldn’t be. That’s a bold ambition – there isn’t a country in the world at the moment that gets back 100% of its packaging – but that’s what we need to aim for. It’s also the kind of action that more and more consumers want to see big brands taking.
There are three areas we’ve decided to focus on based on the input we received:
- Making our packaging as sustainable as possible
- Using our brands and our advertising to encourage more people to recycle
- Calling for reform of the UK recycling system and supporting any new interventions that increase recovery and recycling rates – including deposit return schemes for soft drinks packaging
We use 25% recycled material in all of our plastic bottles. That’s a figure I’m proud of – we already buy and use more recycled plastic than any other food or drink company. To ensure our packaging is as sustainable as possible, we are going to go further and double the amount we use to 50% by 2020 – in every bottle across all 20 of the brands we sell.
That means that around one billion plastic bottles will be turned into new bottles by the time we reach our goal in 2020 and we will buy all of this recycled plastic here in Great Britain, from a factory in Lincolnshire. As a result of this, a Coke bottle you recycle could be back on shelves as a new bottle in as little as six weeks.
Why stop at 50% you might ask? Well, the reality is that at present there just isn’t enough food-grade quality recycled material available in the UK to do that – we cannot buy any more. For that number to go up, two things need to happen: more plastic needs to be recovered and more companies need to commit to use recycled plastic so that reprocessors know there is demand for their output.
We are also going to focus on how we can use our brands and our advertising to encourage more people to recycle. We want to make more people aware that, if you recycle your bottle after you’ve enjoyed it, good things can happen.
I’m excited about our new advert, Love Story, which tells the story of two love-struck plastic bottles who are parted and then reunited as they are disposed of properly, recovered and then recycled into new bottles. The campaign will reach 35 million people in Britain by the end of this year. But it’s about more than advertising. We’re also talking to more people about recycling when we sample our drinks and offering incentives to encourage people to recycle.
Finally, if we want to reduce litter and get more recycled material into our bottles, we need to look at the current recycling system in this country and find ways to make it easier for more packaging to be recovered and recycled. There’s not one easy fix to achieve this, so we will continue to work in partnership with community groups and with the Government over the coming months to champion reforms of the recycling system in Great Britain.
This will include giving our support to properly exploring the merits and impacts of a well-designed deposit return scheme, which we announced earlier this year. We have experience from around the world of participating in such schemes and how to make them efficient and effective. It’s not up to us if one is introduced – that’s a decision for Government - but we remain supportive of trialling one to see how it might help.
In the meantime, we plan to work with others to trial an on-the-go bottle recovery and reward programme to help understand if a small incentive motivates people to take their bottles back to a location to be recycled.
I believe these actions can help to make a real difference now and in the long term. I dislike litter as much as anyone else and don’t want to see it on our streets, on our beaches or in the sea. I’m determined we will do what we can to help prevent it.
Jon Woods is General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland.
Read more about our sustainability initiatives here.