Everyone knows the worrying truth that the planet’s resources are finite. The linear way we consume goods and services – taking, making, using and then disposing – is not a future we can continue to live in. That’s why the Coca-Cola system is committed to the circular economy: a different – and more sustainable – way of looking at things.

‘What is the circular economy?’

The circular economy is a new take on what is probably a more familiar mantra: “reduce, reuse, recycle” that looks to keep materials in use for as long as possible. It aims to use as few new materials as possible in the first place, make the absolute most of all resources, extend the useful life of a product as much as possible and then recover and recycle them to help reduce the need for virgin materials*.

For us at the Coca-Cola system, it’s a way to reduce the amount of resources we use, by reusing them as much as possible and then recycling them back into useable resources whenever we can. So it is about much more than simply recycling.

We want to make the most of every material we use.

* For anybody wondering, virgin materials are resources that have never been used in the manufacturing process previously.

‘OK… but how does it work?’

A very good question.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) examine every individual step in the supply and manufacturing chain, and make sure that at each step they make the most of the resources we already have.

1. Manufacturing: CCEP make sure drinks packaging is 100% recyclable and uses the minimum amount of materials and energy in its production as possible. While all six British manufacturing sites send zero waste to landfill, CCEP also look to minimise the proportion of waste which is unrecyclable.

"Coca-Cola European Partners drinks packaging is 100% recyclable"

2. Distribution: Coca-Cola European Partners have a fleet of delivery trucks on Britain’s roads every day. Wherever possible, they aim to reduce the energy and carbon footprint used in the distribution process – for example through systems like ‘backhauling’ – making sure there’s never an empty truck on the road.

3. Influencing consumer behaviour: Coca-Cola Great Britain encourage people to recycle empty cans and bottles both at home and on-the-go through clear labelling, running special awareness programmes with the companies who sell the drinks, and through work to invest in and improve local recycling facilities.

4. Reuse: Coca-Cola European Partners reuse product packaging such as glass, aluminium and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic to make the lifespan of cans and bottles last longer. This completes the circle, from manufacturing through to you, the consumers, and back around again. Materials like aluminium are pretty much infinitely recyclable, retaining quality, but PET does eventually get to the point where the quality breaks down and fresh materials are needed: this is why CCEP innovations such as PlantBottle plastic – made from renewable sources like sugarcane – are so important. Coca-Cola European Partners also have a really efficient system for repairing and refurbishing fridges and vending machines at a 'cold drinks' centre in Milton Keynes.

5. Repeat: The goal is to keep this circle spinning, constantly aiming to make each step more efficient.

CCE COP21

‘Why does it matter?’

For a whole host of reasons, but here are 3 stand-out ones.

1. It lowers the need for virgin materials
The planet’s resources are limited, and with every passing day these resources continue to shrink. By giving drinks packaging life after disposal, dependence on virgin materials can shrink instead.

2. It leads to cleaner manufacturing
Creating products from recycled materials is more efficient than creating products from virgin materials. Every can or bottle made with recycled aluminium or plastic is more environmentally friendly than anything made from scratch. This results in a lower carbon footprint alongside less damage to the environment (for example from logging or mining for raw materials).

"Every can or bottle made with recycled aluminium or plastic is more environmentally friendly than anything made from scratch."

3. It sets a green example
The benefits of the circular economy are plentiful, but the only way for it to work fully is for every company and person to join in. Every company that adds to the list of circular economy success stories boosts the chances for another company to follow suit. The more people that embrace this philosophy, the better it is for every company, every person and – ultimately – our planet.

‘What can I do to help?’

That may be the most important question of all.

Coca-Cola European Partners are always looking for ways to rethink each step on the supply chain, but there is one part that is out of the Coca-Cola system's control...

Recycling.

Coca-Cola Great Britain actively encourages people to recycle whenever they can. For the circular economy to work at its fullest potential, it matters more than ever. Every can or bottle can be used again and again, and that recycling / reusing process is now more efficient than ever before. But if you don’t recycle, the circle is broken.

Every can or bottle that doesn’t get recycled is a wasted opportunity for it to have a life again.

Find out more about what the circular economy means for the Coca-Cola system.