Coca-Cola Bolsters PET Recycling Efforts

Coca-Cola cans

Coca-Cola is making strides toward a more sustainable future: in the final quarter of 2018, the company announced that it agreed to loan money to Ioniqa Technologies, a company based in the Netherlands that invented a way to use hard-to-recycle plastics — such as colored bottles — in the recycling process, resulting in food-grade polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

How PET Recycling Works — Or Doesn’t

Most recycled PET doesn’t meet the necessary standards for reuse in food packaging. Because PET degrades with each cycle, much of this recycled plastic ends up in clothing, carpets, and other synthetic materials found outside of the food industry.

However, Ioniqa’s new technology breaks down the unfavorable PET plastics — ones that are often overlooked by more traditional recycling plants in favor of higher-value, clear plastics — into ethylene glycol (EG) and purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which can then be used to create new PET that is specifically food-grade.

This may help resolve an ongoing problem that has persisted since the reduction of oil prices: it's currently cheaper and easier to produce new PET than to go through the arduous process of recycling the material, only to end up with a product that is not suitable for food.

Coca-Cola and Ioniqa are not alone in these types of endeavors. Danone, maker of Evian, and Loop Industries of Montreal have also partnered to create fully recyclable, food-grade plastic that does not degrade with each cycle. Coca-Cola is also working with Loop on the company’s European bottling facilities.

Coca-Cola’s Other Sustainability Initiatives

This is not all Coca-Cola has done in recent years to enhance recycling and sustainability initiatives. As customers increasingly demand eco-friendly, socially responsible corporate practices — and are even willing to pay more for products and brands that make clear their commitment to helping the planet — Coca-Cola has ramped up its efforts.

Through the company’s World Without Waste program, for example, Coca-Cola has set a goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of every can and bottle it sells by 2030. In addition to offering 100% recyclable bottles, the company also seeks to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into making bottles, utilize recycled plastics within these bottles, and increasingly employ other sustainable materials, such as plant-based plastics.

Coca-Cola also has plans to continue educating the public about recycling in order to increase adoption of the practice, which, in turn, will provide recycling facilities more material to work with. Through their involvement in non-profits, Coca-Cola has enhanced recycling efforts outside of the U.S.

The company’s bottlers formed a nonprofit, Ecology and Corporate Commitment, which funded the opening of two PET recycling facilities in Mexico. These facilities, in tandem with public education initiatives, have helped the country to become the world’s biggest PET recycler. In fact, as of 2016, 57% of PET in Mexico was being recycled.

Beyond recycling, Coca-Cola continues to invest in other environmentally friendly endeavors through the World Without Waste program, including water conservation. In 2016, the company met its goal to provide back to the community 115% of the water that was utilized for making beverages, making Coca-Cola the first Fortune 500 company to do so — and five years ahead of schedule.


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