Europe looking beyond recycling in drink sustainability push

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling

As groups like Coca-Cola push ahead with new consumer-targeted recycling schemes in the US, their European counterparts claim to favour a different approach to help ensure environmental sustainability.

Europe-based drinks makers, as well as some of Coca-Cola’s leading multinational rivals such as PepsiCo, claim that encouraging consumers to recycle beverage packaging is a major step in meeting the industry’s green goals.

However, the Union of European Beverages Associations (UNESDA) claimed that it members have already made breakthroughs in recycling and needed to look at other emerging environmental concerns.

Just last week, global bottling group Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) announced it was trialling a new scheme in the US state of Minnesota to provide special bins to collect aluminium and plastic beverage packs for re-use in its operations.

Group spokesperson Frank Roselli said the focus formed part of a wider recycling drive across Coca-Cola’s North American operations, though added that the company was exploring possible longer-term strategies of global rollouts for similar schemes.

CCE scheme

Under the new CCE scheme, bottle-shaped recycle bins will be placed at ten petrol stations across the state, with the materials collected, which will be sorted by local charities, then being ploughed back into packaging as aluminium foil or recycled Polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

It is hoped that more of there outlets, which are operated by the Holiday Stationstores company, will then be included in the project by next year.

The project will be headed by the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM), which will oversee the collection and sorting of the bins’ contents, whether the packaging is produced by Coca-Cola or not.

Roselli said that all collected materials would then be reused by the company, effectively providing an endlessly recyclable source of packaging.

“Bales of aluminium will be shipped to Coke system partners who will melt, cast and roll into can sheet [to[ reproduce aluminium cans,”​ he stated. “Bales of PET bottles will be shipped to our new bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the used bottles will be remanufactured into food grade RPET.”

Roselli claimed this rPET can then be mixed with new resin for use in bottles across Coca-Cola’s operations.

Euro recycling tradition

According to UNESDA, while manufacturers are increasingly under pressure to find greener ways for consumers to dispose of pack waste; similar recycling initiatives were already well established across the EU.

A spokesperson for the association told that schemes the use of bottle deposits and material sorting bins in some EU countries reflected the industry’s longstanding commitment to recycling and collection in the bloc.

She added that new approaches to green production other than recycling would therefore be required to meet European green targets.

Improving the ease of which materials such as PET can be recycled, water conservation and carbon foot prints are all areas that UNESDA says it is currently looking into.

Pepsi green push

In the US, PepsiCo, as Coca-Cola’s major rival in soft drink domination, said that it too believed that encouraging consumers to recycle was vitally important for the industry. Like its rivals, the company claims it is focusing on wider policies for green processing and packaging.

While the company was unable to reveal if it would be adapting similar ‘away from home’ schemes like those started by CCE in Minnesota, spokesperson David DeCecco said the company was committed to the use of recycled plastics.

“We lead the beverage industry with 10 per cent recycled content in our soft drink bottles,”​ he stated. “That's a number that our competition has not yet been able to match.”

Coke Recycle drive

Nonetheless, Coca-Cola says that its latest initiative to collect packaging waste in Minnesota forms part of a pledge to eventually recycling 100 per cent of its packaging materials.

Though accepting such aspirations were ambitious, Roselli said that since the Coca-Cola Recycling program was unveiled last year, the company has cooperated with many high profile outlets and events across the US to reclaim beverage packaging.

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola Recycling was named the official recycling provider of the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis,”​ he stated. “Additionally, the company has worked with many municipalities, customers and universities to adopt recycling programs, and also handles recycling at NASCAR [racing] events​.”

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