Head of Sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, Nick Brown, talks about the importance of reducing litter, recovering packaging for reuse and how a well-designed Deposit Return Scheme might work in the UK.

The sustainability of our packaging

We’ve done a great deal over the years to improve the sustainability of our packaging, including using less material and supporting recycling and anti-litter initiatives.

Coca-Cola was one of the first drinks companies to introduce recycled PET plastic (rPET) into drinks packaging. We’re now the largest user of locally sourced recycled plastic in Great Britain and we’re proud that all the bottles and cans across our twenty brands are 100% recyclable – something few consumer goods companies have managed to achieve.

In Great Britain, we’ve reduced the amount of packaging we use by 15% since 2007 and we currently use 25% recycled plastic in all our bottles. Our new commitment is to double this to 50% by 2020, which means we’ll be using recycled plastic from nearly one billion bottles each year.

Recycling at home

The household recycling system we have here in the UK is unique. Over the last fifteen years it’s moved from a limited collection of recycled materials to almost 6 in 10 plastic bottles, and 7 out of 10 cans being recycled at home. But unfortunately, today, recycling rates in the UK are stalling and more needs to be done both to improve the rate of recovery and reduce littering.

That’s why we think it’s important to work with the household recycling system to make improvements. One way we hope to do this is by championing reform of the current producer responsibility scheme.

Our new commitment is to double the amount of recycled plastic we use in our bottles from 25% to 50% by 2020, which means we’ll be using recycled plastic from nearly one billion bottles.

The key focus areas

As one of the largest contributors to the producer responsibility scheme, we believe there are some key areas that need more focus. These include incentives for using recycled material, rewards for better designed packaging, and greater support for British reprocessing. All of which would help the recovery of packaging throughout Great Britain, which can then be reused.

But there’s still the issue of littering. Whilst recycling has improved, we haven’t seen a drop in litter; in fact, peoples’ perception is that the issue is getting worse. We’re working with NGOs, government stakeholders and action groups like Wrap and Keep Britain Tidy to support anti-littering and clean-up initiatives. We’re also active in the workgroups set up to progress DEFRA's (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) litter strategy.

A well-designed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), targeting the littering of on-the-go soft drinks, could have a role to play alongside reforms and improvements for the current systems. We’ve been involved with the design and running of DRS systems around the world, so we’ve seen the positive impact they can have.

We’re working with NGOs, government stakeholders and action groups like Wrap and Keep Britain Tidy to support anti-littering and clean-up initiatives.

Our views on DRS

We’ve spoken to our consumers to understand their views on the scheme: two thirds (63%) support the introduction of a DRS in the UK, and half (51%) say they’d be more likely to recycle as a result. To be effective, a deposit return scheme needs the collaboration of many organisations, as well as the support of the government. The Scottish Government have already commissioned a study looking at possible designs for a DRS, and in Westminster this type of system was one of the ideas included in DEFRA’s litter strategy. To help our understanding of the role a DRS could play in the UK, we’ll be testing an on-the-go bottle recovery and reward programme to understand how a small financial reward impacts littering and recycling rates.

It’s clear that we need to try something different to tackle litter and boost recycling rates, but any new solution needs to work without affecting the existing household recycling system. By testing an incentive-based scheme we hope to measure the positive impact of reward schemes, as well as help inform any future national approaches to reducing litter and increasing recovery rates.

 

Nick Brown is Head of Sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners. Read more about our new Sustainable Packaging Strategy in Great Britain.