WSJ News Exclusive | Coca-Cola Trials Turning Hard-to-Recycle Plastic Into Bottles


Trialing the technology in Europe which turns hard-to-recycle plastic into new bottles in an effort to meet its sustainability goals.

The company̵7;s largest European bottler,

Coca-Cola Europacific Partners,

is funding a startup in the Netherlands that will produce food-grade recycled plastics from plastics that are usually sent to landfill or incinerated – such as film, trays, clothing and colored packaging. This will create an additional source of recycled material. The current supply of recycled plastics is expensive and limited, forcing companies to rely on abundant and cheap oil as a key ingredient in the production of packaging.

“This new technology is important for improving access to recycled materials for bottles,” said Wouter Vermeulen, Coca-Cola’s senior director of sustainability and public policy in Europe. “The Coca-Cola system is committed to reducing our dependence on oil by promoting the production and recycling of virgin packaging materials.”

Coca-Cola aims to increase the proportion of recycled content in its packaging to 50% by 2030. The soft drinks group has acquired around 25% so far.

The company is requiring its bottlers to use more recycled materials to meet its own sustainability goals, “We simply don’t have the necessary levels [of recycled plastic]said Joe Frances, vice president of sustainability at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners.

Startup QRE Technology’s new process cleans and partially breaks down plastics to recombine them into recycled materials. Its so-called partial depolymerization method removes color from polyester, turning it into clear polyethylene terephthalate—or PET—pellets. A study commissioned by CuRe stated that its process resulted in approximately 65% ​​fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than oil-based new plastic production. Coca-Cola Europacific Partners has invested in CuRe in 2020 and again this year.

CuRe is sending samples to Coca-Cola in Atlanta for testing and, if it continues to meet quality standards, it’s possible the recycled plastic could make its way to other markets.

Coca-Cola’s Mr Vermeulen said: “We are currently focused on getting CuRe’s technology right in Europe as a first priority, before looking at how it can benefit other markets “

By 2025, one plant is expected to produce approximately 25,000 metric tons of recycled plastic per year. Coca-Cola Europacific Partners will get a significant portion of that output, but it will represent a fraction of its feedstock, currently around 200,000 metric tons of polyester per year in Europe. If the factory lives up to expectations, Bottcher will build a larger plant before the end of the decade.

The packaging represents approximately 40% of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners’ carbon footprint, primarily due to its use of oil-based virgin plastics. Its goal is to stop using oil to produce plastic bottles by 2030. Last year, nearly half of its bottles were made from recycled plastics and bioplastics.

By the end of the next decade, Mr. Francis of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners envisions technology such as CuRe bottling supplying about 25% of the company’s needs while traditional recycling methods will satisfy about 70%. He expects recycled plastics supplied by QRE’s method to be significantly more expensive than existing recycled plastics, which can be up to 50% more expensive than plastics made from oil.

“I’m not going to stand here in 2023 and say we have a complete road map that will take us there,” Mr. Francis said. “I really believe the business made the right investment.”

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