What If Plastic Never Became Waste?

Circular recycling solutions provide a path to keeping plastic products out of our natural environments for good.


Summary of Washington Post article dated 7th January 2019. 

In the center of the Pacific Ocean, weighing more than 87,000 tons, is an amorphous vortex of trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. First discovered in the mid-1990s, it expands each year, collecting new pieces and particles. It’s just one striking example of how the world is experiencing a direct threat from excess consumer waste, demonstrating the urgent need for sustainable solutions.

Finding those solutions is the focus of The Coca‑Cola Company’s World Without Waste initiative, which includes the ambitious goal of collecting and recycling the equivalent of every bottle or can the company sells globally by 2030. Since launching in January 2018, the initiative has underwritten and implemented new recycling campaigns, as well as reinvented existing ones, from Estonia to Australia, Kenya to the United States, adhering to the values of a closed-loop circular economy: a system in which all of the plastic packaging the company produces is designed to be recycled, kept in the economy, and reused in food and beverage packaging.

These diverse programs provide valuable lessons that can be applied around the world. Ultimately, The Coca‑Cola Company’s progress proves that sustainable, circular recycling initiatives are possible—and valuable—for any country and any economy.


South Africa Provides a Vision of Sustainability

Since South Africa’s opening to the global trade market in the 1990s, the country has rapidly become one of the major economic forces in Africa. Along with this growth has come an increase in plastic waste and a need for a more sustainable recycling infrastructure. PETCO, the national voluntary extended producer responsibility company that supports and promotes PET recycling, has helped moved the country forward in this regard.

The Coca‑Cola Company, in partnership with PETCO, has provided the required tools of the trade, including bailing machines, scales and trolleys for collection centers, and resources for coastal cleanups, such as bags and trailers for the cleaners.



“One of the keys to South Africa’s success,” said Casper Durandt, head of sustainable packaging and agriculture for the Coca‑Cola Southern and East Africa Business Unit (SEABU), “is the voluntary contribution towards PETCO via a resin levy and grants from brand owners, resin producers and retailers in the country.” These funds are channeled through contracted recyclers and ultimately provide an incentive to bottle collectors. An estimated 65,000 people in South Africa generate an income from this unique funding model, keeping interest in the collection of plastic bottles growing and the overall volume of plastic bottle waste in landfills to a minimum. Auditing results for 2017 show that PETCO helped the country achieve a 65 percent recycling rate, which is on par with EU standards.

PETCO now has a total of 11 recycling partners across South Africa. These recyclers produce food-grade PET from recycled bottles in three state-of-the-art, bottle-to-bottle recycling plants. The Coca‑Cola Company in South Africa now uses up to 25 percent recycled content in its new bottles via a closed-loop structure.

Durandt believes so strongly in this model that he is currently focused on expanding the program throughout Africa with The Coca‑Cola Company’s support. “We are working on a project to accelerate Kenya’s [recycling rates] from 16 percent to 50 percent within one year, and we think it’s possible,” he said, optimistically.

In June of this year, PETCO Kenya introduced a series of PET collection initiatives. Given these successes, there is plenty of reason to believe that this system can be replicated throughout Africa—and in many other countries around the world.

Putting Circular Solutions into Action

Sustainability and closed loop cycles must now become a global priority, from emerging nations to the world’s largest economies. Companies at the forefront of sustainability are thinking creatively to address this growing concern. If the success of innovative closed loop circular systems in Estonia, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and the United States are any indication, no country or market is too small, large, or even remote to adapt more sustainable recycling models based on the unique socioeconomic factors and governmental policies in each region. These solutions ultimately help create a closed-loop system that benefits the environment, serves communities and begins the path to solutions for this generation. As each of these examples demonstrates, these goals do not have to be mutually exclusive.