By Bruno Pietracci and Jacques Vermeulen
It’s clear that the world has a packaging problem. Plastic pollution, one of the most visible challenges of our time, is too big for any government, company or community to solve on their own.
While food and beverage packaging is an important part of our modern lives, like many companies that make products we all love, The Coca-Cola Company recognises that our packaging has contributed to this global challenge. Because our business relies on bottles and cans, we share a responsibility to help ensure that the world has a more sustainable packaging system in place
The United Nations Environment Programme recently issued a report on ‘Legally Plastic: Regulatory Approaches to Controlling Single-Use Plastic’. The UN conducted research on national regulatory frameworks concerning Plastic Bags, Single-use plastics and Microbeads. The 2018 analysis of 192 countries included Bans & Restrictions; Taxes & Levies; and Waste Management Measures.
While the report is helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of certain regulations in various parts of the world, it does not explore the effectiveness of Voluntary Extended Producer Responsibility (VEPR). As a global business, The Coca-Cola Company operates in countries which don’t have regulations or taxes in place regarding plastic packaging, however, we have taken it upon ourselves, with our bottling partners, to collect and recycle a can or bottle for every one we sell by 2030 as part of a vision called World Without Waste. And we are doing this in many parts of Southern & East Africa.
We recognise that PET plastic is a big driver for the circular economy and is used in many other products besides bottles, including cars, textiles and carpets. To establish the basis for a sustainable circular economy, we’re designing, collecting and partnering to enable recycling and to turn our bottles into valuable resources, which will create more jobs and drive a greener economy.
Our VEPR for our plastic packaging revolves around three pillars: Design, Partner and Collect. We’re designing our packaging to be 100% recyclable across our expanding portfolio by 2025, and by 2030, all our packaging will contain 50% recycled materials within it. Currently in South Africa, all Coca-Cola PET packaging is made with at least 15% recycled PET (rPET).
Across southern and eastern Africa, we are partnering with local communities, NGOs, industry and consumers to collect packaging, helping to ensure that it doesn’t end up where it doesn’t belong. Earlier this year in April, we helped to launch the African Plastics Recycling Alliance. The alliance brings companies such as Diageo, Unilever, Nestle and The Coca-Cola Company together to promote innovation and collaboration for solutions that improve plastic collection and recycling, which in turn is expected to create jobs and commercial activity. Companies in the Alliance will also engage with the investment community and policymakers to accelerate the development and financing of waste management infrastructure and systems.
By acting as a catalyst to bring together partners along the value chain to enable recycling, The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Beverages Africa have been instrumental in kickstarting VEPR systems to improve collection rates – first in South Africa and now leveraging these learnings to other countries in southern and eastern Africa.
In South Africa, The Company and its bottlers got together with other manufacturers to form the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) in 2004. This not-for-profit organisation collects a voluntary recycling fee from converters and importers of PET resin, the main material in plastic beverage bottles. The fee is then channelled to local recycling partners for every kilogram of post-consumer PET that they buy from collectors, helping to sustain the recycling sector by increasing the value of collected PET.
As a result of the PETCO system in South Africa, the recycling rate of PET in South Africa has rocketed from just 14% in 2005 to over 65% of total PET volumes in 2018. This puts South Africa ahead of developed markets, such as the EU (2016: 60%) and US (2016: 28.4%) when it comes to PET collection rates. In 2018, the Coca-Cola system in South Africa collected more PET than it put into the market – 113% to be precise.
Over the past decade, the recycling ecosystem in South Africa has grown into a thriving R250m/year industry, providing income opportunities for more than 64 000 people, and creating small, entrepreneurial waste collection businesses along the value chain.
Building on this experience in South Africa, The Coca-Cola Company, CCBA and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, launched PETCO in Kenya, as a voluntary industry extended producer responsibility scheme in June 2018. This scheme will also be introduced in Ethiopia and Tanzania this year.
Meanwhile in Uganda, working with the government and community stakeholders, Plastics Recycling Industries (PRI), a CCBA subsidiary, has extended its recycling operations. In 2018, PRI collected and recycled 2,300 tonnes of plastic waste; as of May 2019 the facility has doubled its monthly collection and recycling rate and is on track to exceed 5,000 tonnes of recycled plastic waste for the year, leading the way in Eastern Africa.
In Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana, we have contracted with local collectors and recyclers to accelerate collection and recycling.
Of course, such voluntary systems such as these require ongoing financial support from all industry players to remain sustainable. The Coca-Cola Company provides support in the form of a voluntary recycling fee and an annual grant paid to PETCO, but we also purchase between 9 000 -10 000 tonnes per year of recycled material for use in new bottles, worth an estimated R160m per annum.
Our packaging vision of a World Without Waste is the next step in our ongoing sustainability efforts. With the right level of commitment, we hope to demonstrate that Voluntary Extended Producer Responsibility can be as effective as regulation and levies in addressing the plastic pollution problem.
- Pietracci is President of the Southern and East Africa business unit of The Coca-Cola Company.
- Vermeulen is the CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, Coca-Cola’s largest bottling partner in Africa.