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How the World’s Most Popular Soda is Becoming More Sustainable

I’m proud to be a conscious consumer and think it's super important that we all do our part in understanding the kind of companies we are supporting when we buy their goods.

Written by
Anna Shuster

The Beginning of Coca-Cola’s Sustainability Journey

People love Coca-Cola. This sweet fizzy beverage is enjoyed by children and adults alike. The average American even goes as far as to drink 403 cans a year

However, people are becoming more aware of their plastic consumption and this has become a barrier to enjoying some of our favorite things like a cool drink of Coca-Cola on a hot day. In fact, according to Trivium Packagings executive review, “67% of consumers identify as environmentally aware” and more eco-friendly packaging is “important to more than two-thirds of consumers.” In an effort to follow the trend of trying to care more for our planet, Coca-Cola had to step up. 

Their sustainability journey began in 2009 with Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle™ which was made partially from plants and entirely recyclable due to its PET (the abbreviation for their recyclable plastic) properties. What was revolutionary about this implementation of PET, was that it is 100% recyclable and it was a great source of renewable energy when recycled. 

And this is awesome! Every company has to start somewhere and as a major player in the drink industry, Coca-Cola was setting a precedent for other companies to care about the environment. However, this 100% recyclable bottle is not the final solution to fighting plastic waste and litter.

Why Recycling Coca-Cola Was Not Enough

Just because something is recyclable does not mean that it will be recycled or that environmental impact is altogether eliminated. To recycle still requires energy and requires consumer cooperation to consistently pay attention to which bin they are putting their drink once they finish. In fact, America’s PET recycling rate is 31% and according to data from the American Communities Project, 25% of America does not recycle.

With recycling, comes a slew of accessibility issues. In a survey moderated by the Recycling Partnership, over 50% of Americans felt like they did not have easy access to a recycling program. This became especially prevalent in low-income and young communities.

These plastic items, while intended to be recycled, then add to the greenhouse gasses emitted by landfills or become a part of the massive plastic waste that gets washed into our oceans.

So, what does this mean for our PlantBottleTM introduced in 2009? That if not placed in the right bin, it will still pollute our planet.  PET, while being 100% recyclable, is not biodegradable.

The Jump to Biodegradable Products

This is why it is so exciting that Coca-Cola, albeit in Europe for now, will be moving to biodegradable packaging made from plants! They have partnered with the Paper Bottle Company, or Paboco for short. Pabaco’s mission statement declares “The purpose is to pioneer the transformation towards sustainable bottle packaging, propelled by innovation and the insight that each industry must transform and do their part for a better tomorrow.” Other big-name industry names like L’oréal and the alcohol company Absolut have partnered with Paboco as well.

Paboco offers an alternative to the 2009 PlantBottleTM because it is experimenting with plant-based PEFs, rather than PETs. PEF is a bioplastic, plastic made from a biological material, that Paboco draws out of their sustainably sourced wood. PEFs are 100% recyclable on their own, just like PETs, and can even be incorporated into the PET recycling stream. What is especially exciting about PEFs— they are more biodegradable than PETs. 

With goods that eventually break down on their own if necessary, Paboco is creating a solution to wanting to enjoy consumer goods, but not wanting to contribute to the growing waste on our beautiful planet. This transition to biodegradable biochemicals is just one way that larger industries and companies can mitigate America’s recycling and litter crisis.

The Bigger Picture

While they are focusing on Europe for now, Coca-Cola is setting some ambitious sustainability goals. By 2023, they want to be using “100% recycled or renewable materials in all of its plastic bottles.”  

Coca-Cola’s sustainability journey is a testament that supply drives demand. If we as consumers consistently display that we want our larger industries to be more eco-conscious, they will listen. 

As a society, we have started taking note of our own carbon footprint. We are doing everything we can, but imagine the impact once we convince larger industries to take action alongside us! Let’s look out into the world. What other industries can we encourage to take responsibility?