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Coke unveils goal to use more refillable packaging

Coca-Cola Co. wants to have a quarter of all beverages the company sells around the world to be delivered in reusable packaging by the end of the decade.

That's up from about 16 percent in 2020.

The Atlanta-based beverage giant is out with a new 2030 goal seeking to greatly expand the use of refillable and returnable plastic or glass bottles or refillable containers used for fountain drinks.

"Accelerating the use of reusable packages provides added value for consumers and customers while supporting our World Without Waste goal to collect a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030," said Elaine Bowers Coventry, chief consumer and commercial officer, in a statement.

"Returnable glass bottles and refillable PET currently represent more than 50 percent of the Coca-Cola Co.'s product sales in more than 20 markets, and more than 25 percent of sales in another 20 markets," the company said in revealing the new goal Feb. 10.

Coca-Cola's decision comes just a few months after a shareholder proposal was filed by As You Sow and Green Century Capital Management Inc. seeking higher use of refillable containers.

As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group with an eye on environmental and social corporate responsibility issues, reacted favorably to the company's move Feb. 10.

"We agree with the company that reusable packaging is among the most effective ways to reduce waste, use fewer resources and lower carbon emissions. This action has the potential to substantially reduce the amount of single-use plastic bottles used, many of which end up as ocean plastic pollution," Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron at As You Sow said in a statement.

He called reusable bottles a "proven method to reduce single-use plastic waste and promote a circular economy for packaging."

Refillable containers actually are outperforming nonrefillable containers in Germany and parts of Latin America, Coca-Cola said. Reusable bottles accounted for 27 percent of the company's transactions in 2020 in Latin America.

Coca-Cola will expand the use of its "Universal Bottle" that was rolled out into the Brazilian market in 2018. That container is now used in several other countries, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Panama.

The bottle, which has consistent color, shape and size, allows for reuse across multiple brands for both carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, Coca-Cola said. The company also plans to expand the use of refillable 2-liter and 1.5-liter PET bottles in South America.

Refillable and returnable packaging made up about 16 percent of the company's total volume in 2020.

While the company uses refillable containers in more than 40 countries already, Coca-Cola said the announcement to further expand their use "will require significant investment, particularly in markets with limited refillable/returnable infrastructure."

Ben Jordan, senior director of packaging and climate for Coca-Cola, said individual markets will use different approaches to reach the company's overall goal in various ways.

"Reusable packaging is among the most effective ways to reduce waste, use fewer resources and lower our carbon footprint in support of a circular economy," Jordan said in a statement.

As You Sow, based in Berkeley, Calif., said the firm will now conduct "additional analysis of the details of the company's goals" with Green Century Capital Management Inc., an investment firm, before deciding whether to withdraw or maintain the shareholder proposal.

As You Sow pointed to a January 2020 report by environmental group Oceana said increasing the use of refillable containers by 10 percent in coastal countries could decrease PET bottle marine debris by 22 percent.

Publication date: 10/02/2022

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Last update: 2022-01-31