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Coca-Cola unveils all-new bottles — sort of

Coca-Cola's new bottles, made from recyclable materials, rolls out this week.
The Coca-Cola Company via CNN Newsource
Coca-Cola's new bottles, made from recyclable materials, rolls out this week.

By Jordan Valinsky, CNN

New York (CNN) — Coca-Cola, often criticized for being one of the world’s top plastic polluters, is making changes to the bottles of its namesake soda as part of a years-long initiative to be more environmentally friendly.

Arriving at US retailers this week, all versions of Coca-Cola (i.e. zero sugar, diet, original, etc.) sold in 20-ounce bottles will be made from 100% recycled plastic, marking the newest milestone for the beverage giant on its way to achieving its 2030 goal of making half of its portfolio produced from recycled material.

Pollution from single-use plastic remains a major problem, with a recent report finding that companies are producing record amounts despite efforts to be more sustainable. Plastic is problematic because it’s mostly made from polymers created from dangerous fossil fuels.

“Consumers are looking for more sustainable solutions in their packaging, whether that is packaging made from recyclable material or packaging that can be reused,” Kurt Ritter, vice president of Coke’s sustainability efforts in North America, exclusively told CNN. “We know as a large global beverage company, we have a responsibility to lead and innovate.”

In the US, Coca-Cola first introduced recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in 2021 with Dasani in a few states, before rolling out nationwide in 2022. A year later, Coca-Cola made a major change when it took out Sprite bottles’ green PET, which was an additive that was difficult to recycle into new bottles. That forced its iconic packaging to be changed from green to clear.

Coca-Cola (KO) estimates that the new bottles will reduce 83 million pounds of plastic used in its US supply change, the equivalent of two billion bottles, Ritter said, calling the changes “significant.”

Customers will notice a new label signifying the change, although the bottle itself won’t look or feel too different from the packaging currently sold. However, the label and caps will not be made from 100% recycled plastic.

Companies like Coca-Cola have been making more environmentally packaging as consumer awareness and demand for action has intensified in recent years. But Ritter acknowledged that it’s too early to judge if the new bottles are “resulting in measurable sales change.” Coca-Cola’s most recent earnings show that North American volume fell 1% due to weakening demand for its sports drinks and coffee.

The company aims to complete the rollout nationwide by the end of the summer. Coca-Cola’s Smartwater brand also plans to introduce bottles made with 100% recycled plastic in New York and California later this year.

Despite these initiatives, Coca-Cola was named as the world’s top plastic polluter for the sixth-consecutive year in 2023 by the environmental organization Break Free from Plastic. Its waste count was 33,830, out of 537,719 pieces of plastic waste the non-profit audited across 40 countries, with Coca-Cola bottles being the most common item found discarded, often in public spaces such as parks and beaches.

The watchdog group said the beverage giant’s changes are the “bare minimum” the company can do. “Plastic recycling is never going to make a dent in the plastic pollution crisis — plastic was never designed to be recycled, and it cannot be recycled indefinitely,” Emma Priestland, global corporate campaigns coordinator of Break Free from Plastic, told CNN.

“Coke already knows that real solutions look like reusable glass bottles in scalable reuse systems. Coca-Cola needs to urgently and dramatically reduce its use of plastic — full stop,” she said.

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Article Topic Follows: Food

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