Coca-Cola European Partners' Nick Brown explains why the drinks giant is a founder member of the UK Plastics Pact and wants to see effective deposit return schemes in England and Scotland

A year ago, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) unveiled its Sustainable Packaging Strategy – a long-term commitment to sustainability centring around real action.

At CCEP, we have a bold ambition to collect all our packaging so that more can be recycled and none of it ends up as litter or in the oceans. We believe this will be achieved by taking action in three areas.

Firstly, we will ensure our packaging is as sustainable as possible. Our plastic bottles, cans and glass bottles are already 100% recyclable and we continually look at ways to lightweight them further and to use more recycled or renewable materials, such as PlantBottle™. This is why we have set out the aim to double the amount of recycled plastics in all our bottles to 50% by 2020 (up from the current figure of 25%).

Secondly, due to the strength of our brands, we know the important role we play when it comes to encouraging consumers to recycle their bottles after use. We are committed to taking more action in this area throughout 2018 and beyond.

The plastics issue is not something one company can resolve single-handedly, but can be tackled through collaboration

Thirdly, we are continuing our work with other industry leaders and government bodies to support the growth of the circular economy in the UK by championing reform of the current recycling systems. We believe this should include supporting any well-designed interventions that boost recycling and reduce litter, including deposit return systems.

Built on three pillars of ‘innovate’, ‘encourage’ and ‘improve’, the strategy highlights where we are focussing our sustainability efforts. We see this as just the beginning and will continue to look at ways we can go further and work with others – whether that’s to help retrieve our packaging or enable access to new renewable materials. We recognize that it is not an easy task and we cannot do it alone, but we’re committed to doing what we can and working with others to achieve this goal.

Coca-Cola's PlantBottle™ is one of the innovations in its Sustainable Packaging Strategy. (Credit: Coca-Cola)

To that end, we have signed up and pledged to multiple initiatives that bring key stakeholders together to drive positive change. These include WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact, the British Plastics Federation’s Marine Litter Pledge and Operation Clean Sweep.

The UK Plastics Pact is a collaborative initiative bringing businesses together from across the entire plastics value chain, along with the UK government and NGOs, to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. CCEP is proud to be a founding member of the pact.

Pact members include 42 businesses from major food and drink brands, manufacturers and retailers, right through to plastic re-processors. These pact members are responsible for over 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets – carrying undeniable clout through its membership alone. By encouraging and facilitating collaboration amongst its members, the pact has the potential to make great strides towards its targets of cutting plastics waste, and improving recyclability and the use of rPET by 2025.

With recycling rates stalling, the beverage industry has an opportunity to step change the levels of recovery of its packaging

The UK Plastics Pact is the first of its kind in the world. It reinforces that the plastics issue is not something that one person or company can resolve single-handedly, but something that can be tackled through collaboration; working together towards a greater goal. I am sure it will be replicated in other countries to form a powerful global movement of engaged, like-minded, responsible figures in the plastics industry.

We are also seeing key industry players coming together on the subject of deposit return schemes (DRSs). As part of our sustainable packaging strategy, we have said that we want to see more of our bottles and cans being recycled, and we are open to exploring any well-designed initiatives that have the potential to increase recovery rates and reduce litter.

As with an increasing number of our contemporaries in the industry, we recognize the potential benefits of a DRS in helping to achieve this, providing it is well-designed, and run efficiently and effectively.

Countries with effective deposit return schemes for rigid beverage packaging can often achieve higher collection rates; better material quality and a lower level of beverage packaging littering. With recycling rates across England and Scotland stalling, the beverage industry has an opportunity to step change the levels of recovery of its packaging, and governments in Holyrood and Westminster have both set a clear intention of implementing such a scheme.

We know that this represents a fundamentally different collection approach, with the public returning used packaging to where it was purchased. It will have a significant impact on householders, retailers and local authorities, who currently provide the household waste and recycling collection services.

There are some key principles common to many well-designed DRSs around the world but in the UK, there is a central choice as to whether we should build a scheme to complement, or replace, the existing household collection regimes for rigid beverage packaging.

The appetite for change in the industry and enthusiasm from the public shows that a more sustainable future is achievable

With consultations from the Scottish and English governments expected before the end of the year, it’s important for all interested parties to put forward their vision of the optimal scheme – a well-designed DRS will have a wide-reaching impact, after all.

We look forward to working closely with the government and other like-minded companies to develop a system that significantly improves recycling rates in a way that works for consumers, local authorities and businesses.

We may only be one year into our Sustainable Packaging Strategy, but the progress we have made, the appetite for change in the wider industry and enthusiasm from the public shows that a more sustainable future is achievable – and on the horizon.

Nick Brown is head of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners

Main picture credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock
coca-cola  UK Plastics Pact  Operation Clean Sweep  plastic recyling  deposit return schemes 

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