Designing Better Bottles for Better Recycling

Designing Better Bottles for Better Recycling

As part of its World Without Waste vision, the Coca‑Cola Company designing better bottles and partnering with others to help improve collection rates.


Launching a new 2L returnable PET bottle and transitioning the iconic green Sprite bottle to clear PET are just two of the projects The Coca‑Cola Company and its bottlers have embarked on to improve packaging design so it can be more easily recycled.  

Although returnable PET has been around in the Western Cape for 28 years, the launch of a new 2L returnable PET bottle across a growing number of regions in South Africa incentivises consumers to return their bottle once they’ve finished with it.

“The point of returnable PET is to give consumers an alternative to one-way bottles,” says David Drew, Head of Sustainability, Packaging and Climate Change Coca‑Cola Southern and East Africa.  “Apart from putting a lot of effort into awareness around the new bottles, we’ve also created a R9 deposit, which is a considerable incentive for people to bring the bottle back. We want the bottle back, we want people to return it and that's why we've made sure that there's enough of an incentive for people to do this.”

Through a deposit return system, the returnable PET bottles can be reused until the end of their life cycle. With the expanded rollout of this returnable PET package, Coca‑Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) has also invested in an entire logistics chain and capacity to refill the returnable bottles. The team went on a benchmarking trip to understand how the roll out of the returnable PET bottle worked in other countries, especially in South America, before piloting it in South Africa.

“The approach we take is to look at what's working well in other markets and ask ourselves, can it work here?” says Tshidi Ramogase, Public Affairs and Communications Director: Coca‑Cola Beverages South Africa. “If so, let's give it a shot. The response from consumers is what keeps us wanting to do more and do the right thing.”

The World Without Waste vision also aims to make bottles with 50% recycled content by 2030 and ensure all packaging is 100% recyclable by 2025.  The company has already started this journey with its Bonaqua 500ml pack, which is made from 100% recycled plastic material.

The transition of the Sprite bottle from green to clear PET is another step along the path.   While green PET is recyclable, the end products are far more limited than for clear PET. Green PET also can’t be recycled back into other bottles and the company wants to increase the proportion of recycled content in its bottles. 

“The transition to clear also links to our brand being about transparency and clarity and now our bottle is a representation of that,” says Thabiso Mabitsela: Senior Brand Manager: Coca‑Cola Southern and East Africa.From a brand recognition point of view, the team listened to consumers and worked hard on differentiating the pack design, including a whole new look for Sprite cans too.

People forget that we are soon to be a global population of 8 billion people on this planet and the reality is we want to transport food and water and other products to that quantum of people plastic actually comes with the lowest carbon footprint, says  Chandru Wadhwani, Joint Managing Director at Extrupet, the largest and most advanced recycler of PET materials on the African continent.  “The danger is that if we don't recognise that and we move to other alternatives, we actually will do more harm to the environment than good.”

He hopes that public awareness will grow about PET plastic being a valuable product that has an end-of-life use and that it is a circular product. The other hope is to encourage more brand owners to be more mindful of design.  “We are very excited about Coca‑Cola’s new Sprite bottle because the recyclability of any product starts by how it was designed,” adds Wadhwani.

Despite Covid-19’s effect on the global economy, The Coca‑Cola Company is forging full steam ahead with its ambitious World Without Waste vision. “The objective is about sustainability and doing things the right way to ensure that we leave this planet a better place than we found it,” says Mabitsela.  “As Africans we know about Ubuntu, it’s the idea that you’ve got to look after the next person or the next child coming along. Recycling is a step to ensure a future for our kids.  I've got a son and if I want him to enjoy a litter-free beach one day, I’ve got to do my part.”

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