Coca-Cola tests paper bottle but is it the answer?

The bottle is made by Danish company Paboco and features an extra strong paper shell, 100 per cent recycled plastic enclosure and liner inside.

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.

A “work-in-progress”

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.”

What do you think of Coca-Cola’s paper bottle? Let us know in the comments below. 

Hide Comments (7)Show Comments (7)
  • mike dempsey February 16, 2021 at 9:51 am

    A zero-waste paper bottle is a terrific thing for the planet. But even better would be for Coca-Cola to drastically reduced the amount of sugar in their standard can of Coke (still the most popular). It has about 9 teaspoons of sugar in it. And the 500ml bottle contains more than 50g of sugar, that’s over 12 teaspoons. If you have ever been to Mexico, where the population worships Coke, you will see just how much it has contributed to obesity, especially in kids.

  • joseph February 16, 2021 at 11:42 am

    What is the point? All of that money spent on what? They already have glass and aluminium for drinks – both materials are 100% recyclable.

  • Emily Farrar February 16, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    Shouldn’t they be looking at a method of re-filling,creating refilling machines?

  • DC February 18, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    “In 2020, Coca-Cola was ranked the world’s number one plastic polluter”

    So Coca-Cola’s response is to create a hybrid which still basically uses plastic – just now with an outer paper shell?

    How does this help? How is using two materials (and the manufacturing, energy use and waste involved) a better option? How is this better than using glass & aluminium packaging? How does this change anything?

  • Hans February 19, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    If the bottle is made from sustainably forested paper, and can be recycled in mainstream paper recycling streams, and is non-toxic-kerb-side degradable, it’s a winner. With a plastic liner inside? Afraid not, but let’s support them on their innovation path

  • Andy McCarten February 21, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    As Mr Michelsen says this seems to be a ‘work in progress’ which is at least searching for alternatives, but you would think we (I mean all of the world) would have cracked this a long time ago, in assessing impact and ways of selling products that don’t damage the world nor ourselves (sugar) in the process of quenching our thirst. Surely we can/must do better?

  • Anna Kyriacou March 2, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    In comparison to paper products, those made from plastic weigh much less, which results in lower transportation costs and emissions. It also takes less energy to manufacture plastic. Furthermore, it is now possible to upgrade regular plastic using d2w oxo-biodegradable technology (, so that it will not lie or float around for decades if it becomes litter. Also, COVID has shown us that plastic is the best way to protect ourselves and our food from contamination, and plastic can now be made antimicrobial using d2p technology (

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