At Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), packaging is an essential part of our business, and despite the fact that almost all of our packaging is fully recyclable, all too often it ends up in landfill after use. We sell approximately 12 billion bottles and cans a year; therefore we take our commitment to sustainable packaging seriously.

Recently, CCE’s long-term commitment to sustainability was recognised through our inclusion on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, with an industry best score for sustainable packaging. We are dedicated to supporting the development of the circular economy, using recycled and renewable materials, and recycling more packaging than we use. In fact, our industry has probably been one of the longest proponents of circular thinking, particularly when it comes to packaging.

Later this week at the Sustainable Innovation Forum held during COP21, The Coca-Cola Company’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Bea Perez, will communicate our global system’s support of such an economy - one where materials are recycled and reused for as long as possible to ensure maximum value is gained from them. It’s an important concept to consider.

When we think about our products, we consider their environmental and social impact beyond our factory gates. The packaging we use, the ingredients we buy, and the recycling and reuse of our packaging are all critical. Packaging alone represents over half of CCE’s value chain carbon footprint - that’s larger than the combined carbon emissions from our manufacturing facilities, distribution networks and cold drink equipment.

Packaging represents the single biggest opportunity our business has to reduce the impact we have on the environment. We’re embracing this opportunity with a commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand by a third by 2020. To achieve this goal, we have also made a series of commitments to ensure the packaging we use is more sustainable, and that more material can be recycled. 

Right now, 100 percent of our bottles and cans are fully recyclable, but that’s simply not enough. By 2020, we aim to reduce the amount of material we use across all of our packaging formats by 25 percent. We will achieve this by making our packaging lighter and by reducing the weight of our can and bottle tops and the secondary packaging we use, such as cardboard and film. In total, since 2007, we have reduced the amount of packaging material we use by 20 percent. In 2014, our lightweighting initiatives reduced the carbon impact of our business by 9,300 tonnes of CO2e, avoiding the use of 1,266 metric tonnes of materials. 

Using recycled materials is also important. It takes 95 percent less energy to produce recycled aluminium than virgin aluminium, and 60 percent less energy to produce recycled PET than virgin plastic. As a result, by 2020, we aim to ensure that 40 percent of the PET we use is recycled PET and/or PET from renewable materials, and to include recycled aluminium, glass and steel across all of our packaging types. In 2014, 34 percent of the PET we purchased was recycled PET, and 27.8 percent of our PET bottles were distributed in PlantBottle™ packaging made with up to 30 percent renewable materials from plants.

Increasing the amount of recycled or renewable content in our packaging will require a consistent, high quality supply of recycled material. Rather than being thrown into landfill, we want our packaging to be recycled and reused for as long as possible, creating a continuous circular loop. 

At CCE, we are committed to recycling more packaging than we use by 2020. We’ll do this by promoting recycling in all of our markets, ensuring that our packaging is recyclable, investing in recycling infrastructure, and by using our brands to inspire and encourage consumers to recycle more. We made strong progress in 2014, with 88 percent of the packaging used recycled.

Our target represents a significant stretch for our business and is one we know we can’t achieve alone. We must work with our suppliers, customers and consumers, as well as the recycling and reprocessing industry to meet our target. In France, for example, we have established Infineo Recycling, a joint venture with Plastipak, which recycles 1.5 billion PET bottles a year, enough to cover our recycled PET requirements in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. 

We’re also working with policymakers, industry partners and national recovery schemes, such as Eco-Emballages in France, and WRAP in Great Britain, to keep soft drink cans and bottles out of landfills and increase recycling rates, so more can be recovered and fed back into the system for reuse.

And, importantly, we’re working to encourage consumers to recycle more through retail partner promotion and by investing in research to better understand consumer recycling behaviour. Over the past year, more than 35 million consumers have had the opportunity to see our recycling messaging, and 47,000 have pledged to recycle more. 

We’re proud of how far we’ve come, but we know there is much more to do. We’re going to continue to support the wider packaging industry to explore next-generation packaging, in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company. We’re working to support the development of infrastructure and technology to ensure that all of our packaging materials are fully recyclable by 2024. And we’re going to continue to use our brands to educate and inspire consumers to recycle more often. We look forward to the journey ahead.

Joe Franses is sustainability director at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), the anchor Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe, where a high level of environmental consciousness is reflected in the region’s recycling infrastructure, government policy and public expectations.

This article was originally published on the global Coca-Cola Journey website as part of a series updating Coca-Cola’s participation in events connected to the climate negotiations.