Coca-Cola will soon be trialling a paper bottle for its drinks, as part of its plan in moving towards what it calls “zero waste”.
In 2020, Coca-Cola was ranked the world’s number one plastic polluter by charity group Break Free From Plastic. This meant it contributed more waste than the likes of Pepsi and Nestle.
The new bottle, produced in partnership with Danish start-up company Paboco (short for Paper Bottle Company) aims to go some way to support the drinks giant’s goal of not producing any waste by 2030. This would involve collecting a bottle or can for every one that it sells and recycling them as part of the production process.
News of the partnership between Paboco and Coca-Cola was first shared last summer.
The drinks giant is now preparing to start trials of the paper bottle in Hungary involving Coca-Cola’s fruit-flavoured plant-based drink AdeZ. Some 2,000 bottles will be distributed via an online grocery retailer.
This initial trial will feature Paboco and Coca-Cola’s current prototype: a hard paper shell, with a 100 per cent recycled plastic enclosure and liner on the inside.
However the ultimate goal is produce a solution that is entirely free of plastic, with Michael Michelsen, business development manager at Paboco, calling the paper bottle a “work-in-progress”.
A solution for fizzy drinks
Paper-based packaging solutions are set to become a mainstay as the world continues to distance itself from plastic. Drinks manufacturer Diageo unveiled the “world’s first” paper-based spirit bottle, for its whisky brand Johnnie Walker, last year.
However, one of the reasons behind the continued development of Coca-Cola’s paper bottle is due to the unique challenges that carbonated drinks pose for packaging solutions.
Fizzy drinks are bottled under pressure to ensure the bubbles remain intact. Currently, the recycled plastic cap and liner is what keeps the fizz in Coca-Cola’s paper bottle, but work continues to find a paper-based solution that doesn’t allow for gas leakage.
“Let’s hope Coca-Cola aren’t planning on adding to the problem”
While the news of its trial is welcome, some designers are hesitant to call it a complete success right now.
“It’s somewhat misleading to call this a paper bottle, as it is quite clearly a hybrid of materials. If the Absolut bottle that was recently announced is anything to go by it is probably only 50-60 per cent paper,” says Jo Barnard, founder and creative director of Morrama product design studio. “And whilst they state the plastic is 100 per cent recycled they have said nothing about the origin of the paper.”
Barnard asks if Coca-Cola would in fact be better off simply switching its entire offering to 100 per cent recycled plastic, rather than investing in “complex hybrids”. She cites the example of Tetra-Pak, the company which brought the first paper packaging into the drinks market more than 60 years ago, and the fact even this material is not yet recyclable in all areas of the UK.
“Increasing demand for recycled plastic will help push us more quickly towards a fully circular model that doesn’t rely on virgin plastic or involve cutting down trees,” she says. “Let’s hope Coca-Cola aren’t planning on adding to the problem [experienced by Tetra-Pak].”
“We must also look at short-term opportunities”
Meanwhile, Generous Minds designer and Packadore Collective partner Ronald Lewerissa says that while replacing non-renewable materials like oil-based plastics with renewable materials like paper should reduce a company’s carbon footprint, the reality is “often much more complex”.
“These reports on innovation would be much more valuable if they were accompanied by Life Cycle Assessments [which] clarify where ‘waste’ is created, how much it is and what the carbon footprint of this waste is,” he says.
Lewerissa says solutions that facilitate the circular economy require a “systemic approach”, and that “re-think, re-use, re-duce, re-cycle and re-new” thinking is an opportunity that many brands overlook. He says solutions with this kind of thought might include a post-mix proposition, given that soft drinks consist mainly of water and use such a system out of home or returnable glass bottles, for example.
“We must find the combinations that will eventually make packaging 100 per cent circular,” Lewerissa says. “But we must also look at the short-term opportunities that will gain time, help us to learn and create momentum.”
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