The first-generation prototype consists of a paper shell but still uses a plastic closer and plastic liner to contain the liquid (both being used from recyclable, 100% recycled content plastic).
The goal, however, is to create a bottle which does not require this plastic liner.
The bottle is being developed in Coca-Cola's innovation lab in Brussels, Belgium.
Stijn Franssen, EMEA R&D Packaging Innovation Manager at Coca-Cola, says: “Our vision is to create a paper bottle than can be recycled like any other type of paper, and this prototype is the first step on the way to achieving this.
"A paper bottle opens up a whole new world of packaging possibilities, and we are convinced that paper packaging has a role to play in the future.”
Coca-Cola notes that a paper bottle must adhere to the high safety and quality standards – just like any other type of food packaging.
It is putting the bottle through comprehensive testing in the lab to see how it performs in the refrigerator, how strong it is, and how well it protects the drinks inside.
“We also reflect on how our consumers will react to this paper bottle. Topics like when and where it could be sold and how it can be recycled are all considered. The bottle must be explored from every perspective to ensure that we make the bottle the best it can be,” said Franssen.
When will we see a paper bottle on shelves?
The prototype revealed this month is only one stage in the process, with Coca-Cola not committing to a date at this point for when it could reach shelves on mass.
"The bottle has a plastic liner and a plastic closure, and we are currently testing its physical qualities and properties. This bottle being a prototype, we do not expect to introduce it widely, although we will test it in limited trials as a stepping stone to learn more," a spokesperson told this publication.
"It’s our intention to evaluate this technology for a broad portfolio of beverages including both stills and carbonated drinks. However, at this stage the project is evolving every day and it’s too early to talk about specifics."
Addressing the plastic lining
Coca-Cola’s paper bottle is being explored as part of the Paboco Pioneer Community: an initiative which also includes Carlsberg, Absolut and L'Oréal. Coca-Cola joined the partnership in 2019. While there is a certain overlap in research, the companies are dealing with different drinks and products.
"The four partners in the Paboco Pioneer Community are developing this type of packaging for very different products and circumstances, so while the overarching technology is the same, the individual solutions differ," said the Coca-Cola spokesperson. "Also, our starting points and goals may differ.
"At Coca-Cola, for example, we are developing packaging solutions for non-alcoholic beverages. What we are trying to achieve is a new type of packaging solution that can play a role alongside other types of packaging in our packaging mix. And ultimately, we want our paper bottle to be recyclable so it can be recycled as paper."
However, one area where the community will work together is addressing the tricky plastic lining inside the bottle: which is currently still required to contain the liquid.
"Our clear next step is to find a solution to replace the plastic liner, and this is really where the pioneer community shows its strength. Together with Paboco and the other community partners, we are working on solving this challenge. This requires new technology, and we are looking at several different options.
"The paper bottle must live up to very high quality standards, because it should keep beverages fresh for months. At the same time, we need to ensure that this next iteration of the paper bottle remains recyclable."
Paper bottles from Carlsberg and Absolut
Carlsberg revealed two research prototypes for its Green Fibre Bottle back in October. Both use sustainably sourced bio-based wood fibres: with one using an inner PET barrier and the other using bio-based PEF for this layer.
Pernod Ricard’s Absolut, meanwhile, will start trialling its paper bottle prototype in the UK and Sweden next month. A total of 2,000 bottles will roll out for Absolut Vodka (40% ABV) and Absolut Mixt (4% ABV): testing both the bottle’s functionality and how consumers respond to the new design. A second pilot production run is planned for Spring 2021.
Absolut’s prototype is made from 57% paper and 43% plastic. It uses a metallic crown cap closure, with a solid PVC free liner.