When Maserame Mouyeme, the director for public affairs, communications & sustainability for Coca-Cola in Southern and East Africa, stood onstage at Global Citizen: Mandela 100 in December to declare the company would invest almost half a billion rand to stimulate plastic recycling industries across Southern and East Africa, it was not just a monumental milestone for the company.
The commitment was also a significant boost for environmental health in Africa.
Across the world, the effects of plastic and other pollution have already started taking their toll on the environment.More than 80% of all litter in the ocean is from plastic.
The Coca-Cola brand is one of the most recognised globally, and the company has operations in more than 200 markets. The company’s presence in Africa is just as far-reaching. Coca-Cola Africa has been on the continent for 90 years, producing a growing list of beverages that are sold pretty much everywhere in Africa.
“We acknowledge the potential harm packaging, in particular plastic packaging, can do to the environment," Mouyeme said when announcing the commitment, which is part of the broader World Without Waste campaign.
The Coca-Cola Company launched the World Without Waste campaign in 2018, as a long-term commitment to doing business the right way by minimising and ultimately eliminating the waste that causes damage to the environment.
The campaign has three fundamental goals that work together to reduce waste and protect the environment by targeting how packaging is designed and collected, as well as creating partnerships that support a healthy, debris-free environment.
When it comes to its design, the company aims to make its packaging 100% recyclable globally by 2025, and to use at least 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030.
Already in South Africa, 95% of all Coca-Cola’s packaging is recyclable. This includes the cans it uses, the glass, and the PET plastic bottles, as well as the labels and bottle caps.
Whether it’s using more recycled content; reducing the amount of plastic in bottles through light-weighting; developing plant-based resins; or experimenting with ways to eliminate packaging altogether, the company is investing in to design better bottles.
It’s innovation labs are looking at ways to ensure that every bottle has the opportunity of more than one life — whether the materials are used to make another bottle, a t-shirt, a carpet, or furniture. No matter what they become, the reuse of PET bottles should be maximised, while minimising their impact on the environment.
Importantly, the company is investing in increasing the amount of recycled PET (rPET) in its plastic bottles.
Currently, on average Coca-Cola’s PET bottles in Africa contain 17% of rPET, and they are working on achieving an average of 50% rPET in bottles by 2030. In this pursuit, Coca-Cola will be launching a 100% rPET bottle for its Bonaqua water brand next year in some African markets.
More than one life
The second goal of the World Without Waste campaign is the collection and recycling of a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030.
The Coca-Cola Company believes that while beverage and food containers are an unavoidable aspect of modern life, they do not have to end up as waste.
Yet they still do end up as waste and pollution because too often, nonrefillable packaging is discarded after just one use. This makes recycling necessary.
Dr Casper Durandt, head of packaging, sustainability and waste management at Coca-Cola Southern and East Africa, said: “While we have worked to support recycling efforts, we recognise that as the global beverage leader we must do more — and so we are.”
He added: “To achieve more sustainable end-to-end recycling, what is manufactured in a market must also be collected and recycled in that market.”
The company’s recycling strategy is multipronged. Along with other industry players, the company helped to form the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) in South Africa.
“Our view is, if you make money from PET plastic, you should take responsibility for recovering PET plastic. It’s as simple as that,” explains Durandt.
“If you guarantee a market for your bottles, people will start collecting them. This can help create a more sustainable income opportunity for many South Africans currently without a job.”
Since 2004 to date, PETCO in South Africa has created some 68,000 income opportunities.
“A lot of these jobs yield only about R300 (around US$25) per day — but bear in mind that more than half the population lives on less than R992 (around US$75) per month,” said Durandt.
PETCO has proved to be very successful in South Africa and, in 2017, a record 2.15 billion PET bottles were recycled in the country.
This is an increase from 14% in 2005 to 65% in 2017 — which equates to 5.9 million bottles recycled daily, and more than 4 million kilograms of PET bottles being diverted from landfills in South Africa each year for reuse in the beverage industry.
This, Durandt said, is in part a result of a robust recycling infrastructure made up of collection bins, scales, cages, trolleys, and collection bags.
“Thanks to PETCO, in some cities there is a buyback centre in virtually every suburb [in South Africa],” added Durandt.
Because of the success of the PETCO model in stimulating PET plastic recycling, it has been replicated in Kenya and Ethiopia this year already, with plans to launch in other markets in the near future.
Partnerships for environmental health
The third goal of the World Without Waste campaign calls on communities and other stakeholders to work together with the Coca-Cola Company to ensure that the environment is taken care of.
More than 60,000 Global Citizens witnessed this goal in action at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in December 2018.
To minimise the amount of waste produced at the festival, a group of 20 female waste entrepreneurs were stationed around Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium with trolleys to collect cans, plastic, and other packaging as part of Coca-Cola Africa’s partnership with PETCO.
This is just one of the many ways in which the company forms partnerships aimed at protecting the environment.
“To solve a problem as big as packaging waste, we need to build a global network of competitors, consumers, elected leaders, environmentalists, regulators, retailers, and stakeholders of every kind. That is why we have reached out to others around the globe to broaden and deepen our impact,” the Coca-Cola Company states in the World Without Waste progress report released in 2018.
One powerful way to reach its recycling goals is through education and marketing. As well as hosting community clean ups, and working with schools to collect bottles and plastic packaging — irrespective of the brand that produced it — the Coca-Cola Company also works with organisations that share its vision.
The company is a founding member of the World Economic Forum Global Plastic Action Partnership — a collaboration with government and stakeholders in coastal economies that’s aimed at addressing plastic waste, as well as the Africa Plastics Recycling Alliance set up earlier this year.
The Coca-Cola Company is also a founding member of the Ocean Conservancy Trash Free Seas Alliance. This partnership has cleaned up more than 220 million pounds of plastic from more than 375,000km of coastline since 1995.
The World Without Waste progress report states: “The problem of plastic packaging waste has gotten an enormous amount of attention, and rightly so.”
The Coca-Cola Company says it welcomes this increased attention because it helps energise consumer response to the challenge.
Toward that end, the company has pledged to increase its efforts to restaurants, retailers, and other sellers of its products to increase collection, promote recycling, and provide packageless delivery of its products wherever possible.
James Quincey, the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, said: “Imagine if we were all putting our expertise and resources into solving this problem. Imagine if we all worked to help keep packaging out of the places where it doesn’t belong. Suddenly, a world without waste is possible.”
His words are as much of a pledge as they are a global call to action for all of us to work together to protect the environment by reducing and ultimately eliminating plastic pollution.