Coca-Cola Co.’s announcement in July that it would be taking major steps to support bottle-to-bottle recycling is being praised by recyclables collectors as forward thinking

Houston-based WM, which operates 260 landfill sites and 340 transfer stations, estimates it has spent $800 million on recycling infrastructure since 2018, says Brent Bell, vice president of recycling.

“As we see more and more brands commit to using recyclable materials in their products and packaging, we are increasing our capacity at recycling facilities to be able to help these brands achieve their goals,” he says. “Specific to PET (plastic bottles), a majority of recycled plastic bottles goes into carpet and textiles today. We are starting to work with brands on meeting their goals for using more recycled bottles—the move from green to clear bottles is significant as the process for bottle to bottle today has to separate the green from the clear bottles. WM is very supportive of brands that utilize recycled materials in their products as this helps WM find sustainable homes for the recycled material we collect from our customers every day.”

Phoenix-based Republic Services, with 198 landfill sites and 239 transfer stations, recently announced development of the nation’s first integrated plastics recycling facility in Las Vegas, to open in 2023.Three to five more similar sites are expected to follow over the next several years. “It is encouraging to see consumer brands and packaging manufacturers working to advance the recovery and circularity of their materials,” says Pete Keller, Republic’s vice president of recycling and sustainability. “Republic Services is working to enable greater circularity of plastics through our Polymer Center, which will address the growing demand from brands and manufacturers for recycled plastic. This fully integrated plastics recycling facility will deliver high-quality recycled content like hot-washed PET flake and color-sorted resins that will help enable bottle-to-bottle circularity.”

Bottle Changes

Like other consumer goods manufacturers, Atlanta-based Coke has set sustainability goals. DASANI this summer began rolling out bottles made from 100% recycled PET (excluding caps and labels), and Sprite began transitioning from green to clear plastic to increase the material’s likelihood of being remade into new beverage bottles.

The shift supports DASANI’s pledge to remove the equivalent of 2 billion virgin plastic bottles from production by 2027 compared to 2021 levels and the company’s World Without Waste goal to use at least 50% recycled material in its bottles and cans by 2030. The transition to 100% recycled plastic is projected to save more than 20 million pounds of new plastic, compared to 2019, and cut more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 alone.

On Aug. 1, Sprite began shifting all plastic PET packaging from its signature green color to clear, accompanied by an advertising campaign. Although green PET is recyclable, the recycled material is more often converted into single-use items like clothing and carpeting that cannot be recycled into new PET bottles. During the sorting process, green and other colored PET is separated from clear material to avoid discoloring recycled food-grade packaging required to make new PET bottles.

Colorless Is Cool

“Taking colors out of bottles improves the quality of the recycled material,” says Julian Ochoa, CEO of Waxhaw, N.C.-based R3CYCLE. The company is working with Coca-Cola Consolidated to enable bottle-to-bottle recycling across the largest U.S. bottler’s 14 state-territory. “This transition will help increase availability of food-grade rPET,” Ochoa continues.

Scott Saunders, chair of ISRI’s Plastics Division and general manager of KW Plastics Recycling, says while his company doesn’t process PET, Coke’s decision should save materials recovery facility operators sorting time and the clean bales should have more value. Dasani’s moves should stabilize demand as the bottle market is less cyclical than carpet or fiber, he says.

In addition to transitioning to clear bottles, Sprite is introducing a revamped logo and packaging design to provide a consistent look and voice around the world. Sprite’s packaging graphics will retain the brand’s recognizable green hue and include prominent “Recycle Me” messaging.

Coca-Cola North America’s entire green plastic portfolio—including packaging for Fresca, Seagram’s, and Mello Yello—will transition to clear PET in the coming months.

 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Chng on Unsplash.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; marketing communications; and nonprofit advocacy.