Coca-Cola Launches Recyclable Paperboard Packaging Solution

Scott Snowden

In addition to the adage that “Coca-Cola always seems to tastes better in Europe” now the Spanish, at least, can add to that bold claim that their multipack Coke cans come in environmentally friendly packaging and not some awful, plastic pack rings that would almost certainly degrade into microplastic or cause harm to marine wildlife.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) has announced the introduction of CanCollar, a paperboard packaging solution for multipack cans that is 100 percent recyclable and replaces the current hi-cone solution, thus potentially saving more than 18 tonnes of plastic annually.

Developed in collaboration with Atlanta-based (also the home of Coca-Cola) packaging company WestRock, the CanCollar is produced from sustainable materials and uses no glue or adhesives, keeping its total carbon footprint and production cost to a minimum. And according to CCEP, it prevents the need of more than 11,000 tonnes of virgin plastic a year across Western Europe.

Due to initially roll out in the Balearic Islands in November 2020, which includes Mallorca and one-time global EDM epicenter Ibiza, this new packaging solution “exemplifies [Coca-Cola’s] clear commitment to reduce plastic in our secondary packaging,” according to Joe Franses, vice president of sustainability at CCEP.

The beverage industry has been to slow to take up new ecologically-sustainable solutions to packaging. Carlsberg toyed with a “snap-pack” glue-type concept back in 2018 and last year with a prototype beer bottle made from recycled card. Although both have yet to see wide-spread adoption.

Also in 2019, beer maker Grupo Modelo trailed an environmentally-friendly, interlocking “fit pack” beer can design that could eliminate the need for plastic pack rings. Each can has a thread on the top and bottom so that the top of one be screwed into the bottom of another. Corona believes that this design is strong enough to hold up to 10 cans in a single column. However, innovative though the design may be, it creates some challenging transportation issues.

In January of this year, Bea Perez, head of sustainability for Coca-Cola, refused to commit to a reduction in the company’s production of single-use plastic bottles. Speaking to the BBC, at the annual meeting for the World Economic Forum, she said that customers still want them because they reseal and are lightweight adding that the company will continue to use plastic bottles for now because of consumer demand.

According to the BBC, those bottles add up to about 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging per year — equivalent to 200,000 bottles every minute and in 2019, Coca-Cola was found (again) to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic waste by the charity Break Free from Plastic.

Coca-Cola has invested €2.6 million ($3.07 million) in its Barcelona plant to support this initiative and in the past has pledged to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2030, but there was no mention of this promise as part of this new announcement.

The plastic problem remains a major pollution issue that is all too often overlooked or ignored. An investigation last year by The Guardian revealed that an alarming number of cities around the US are not recycling many types of renewable plastic. Instead, they are being landfilled, burned or stockpiled and so massive amounts of recyclable material is ending up as garbage.

While this new sustainable and recyclable form of packaging is welcome, the plastic pollution crisis is not really rocket science and on the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small effort from the global soft drinks giant. It might be an attempt to respond to criticisms that Coca-Cola took after the comments Perez made, but the incredibly hyper-localized roll out suggest that the $180+ billion beverage behemoth still isn’t as committed with saving the Earth from single use plastic as perhaps it could be.