Coca-Cola is taking steps to be at the forefront of the enhanced recycling movement, which can potentially turn packages such as coloured PET bottles that may have been excluded from certain recycling streams into brand-new PET bottles.

The Coca-Cola system recently announced two investments to speed the development and deployment of breakthrough enhanced recycling technologies that will convert recycled plastic into food-grade PET for use in the company’s beverage bottles. Unlike mechanical recycling, enhanced recycling allows recovery and reuse of PET plastic without material degradation.

“Our aspiration – as part of our World Without Waste vision – is to close the loop on our packaging by helping turn more old bottles into new ones,” explains Scott Pearson, senior director, Global R&D Engineering, The Coca-Cola Company. “And enhanced recycling is the next big step in that direction.”

The company is extending a loan to Ioniqa Technologies to support the development of its technology for PET upcycling, which uses the process of depolymerization to recycle plastics of different colours, qualities and conditions into purified building blocks which can then be made into clear, high-quality PET, bringing the vision of a circular economy one step closer to reality. Ioniqa is building its first PET plastic upcycling factory in the Netherlands.

'Our aspiration – as part of our World Without Waste vision – is to close the loop on our packaging by helping turn more old bottles into new ones. And enhanced recycling is the next big step in that direction.'

Additionally, the Coca-Cola system’s procurement collaboration has established a framework with Loop Industries, Inc., for authorized bottlers to purchase 100% recycled Loop PET. Coca-Cola European Partners is the first bottler to enter into a multi-year supply agreement with Loop for use in its packaging across Western Europe by 2020. This framework agreement will allow the Coca-Cola system to accelerate the increased use of recycled content in its plastic bottles.

These agreements support The Coca-Cola Company’s World Without Waste vision, which focuses on the entire packaging lifecycle – from how bottles and cans are designed and made, to how they’re recycled and repurposed. The holistic, three-pillar plan (Design, Collect and Partner) includes ambitious goals to create packaging made of at least 50 percent recycled material by 2030;  to help to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one the company sells by 2030; and to partner with industry, governments and  local communities to tackle the global issue of plastic waste. The Ioniqa and Loop agreements support the Design pillar.

“These two agreements represent exciting opportunities for a real step change in our move towards a circular economy by bringing low-quality PET waste back to virgin-quality, food-grade PET,” said Robert Long, chief innovation officer, The Coca-Cola Company. “We are committed to ongoing investment in developing the right partnerships and initiatives to support our goal of a World without Waste.”

Long adds, “We have clear targets in place to support this goal. To achieve these will require far-reaching collaborations, partnerships, as well as innovation and investments, both to support a better collection and recycling infrastructure globally and to help develop new sustainable packaging solutions for the future.”

Mechanical recycling is the process of collecting and sorting used plastic bottles, separating clear PET from coloured material, then cutting the clear material into small pieces so it can be effectively cleaned and washed. These pieces can then be melted down and blown into new bottles again.

'These two agreements represent exciting opportunities for a real step change in our move towards a circular economy by bringing low-quality PET waste back to virgin-quality, food-grade PET.'

Enhanced recycling uses the process of depolymerization, where the PET plastic (polymer) is converted back into its original building blocks (monomers), which are easier to purify. The monomers can then be repolymerized into the plastic resin creating high-quality PET material. “Using these more efficient enhanced recycling processes we can help reduce the high losses of PET we see in mechanical recycling and because we are reforming the polymer to perform like new every time we go through the recycling process we can truly start to create a closed loop for PET recycling,” Pearson said. “Enhanced recycling is truly upcycling: materials that would have been wasted or used to make carpets or textiles can be converted to bottles, again and again.”

“Enhanced recycling is one technology needed to drive a circular economy,” Pearson said. “It’s a big next step... but it’s not the only step. We still want to minimize use of virgin plastics and continue to lightweight our packaging and use as little material as possible. All of this work ladders up to our destination to close the loop on our packaging materials.”

Earlier this year, the company joined the industrial advisory board for DEMETO, developers of the gr3n technology for enhanced recycling, a European Project financed by the European Community into the framework of the Horizon 2020.

The investments are part of Coke’s multi-faceted approach to help create a circular plastics economy. The company has also pioneered and continues to evaluate the upscaling of new bio-based solutions, including bio-based technologies such as the fully recyclable PlantBottle® packaging made from up to 30 percent plant-based materials, which launched in 2009.

Coca-Cola also has taken several steps recently in support of the Partner pillar of its World Without Waste plan. The company recently announced an investment in Circulate Capital, a venture loan fund established to address ocean plastics in South Asia and Southeast Asia,  including the $15 million contribution from The Coca-Cola Company.  Circulate Capital aims to incubate and finance companies and infrastructure that prevent ocean plastic.

The company also signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment. The commitment, unveiled on Oct. 29 at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali, has been signed by more than 250 organizations. It calls on participants to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models; innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025; and reduce plastic produced by significantly increasing the amounts of plastics reused or recycled and made into new packaging or products.

Read more about Coke’s progress toward its World Without Waste vision.