Coca-Cola to test out first paper bottles

The soft drinks giant Coca-Cola is beginning to test out paper bottles as part of a long-term strategy to eliminate all plastic packaging.

Despite its eco-friendly marketing and emphasis on recycling, Coca-Cola remains one of the biggest producers of plastic in the world, pumping out three million tonnes of packaging every year.

The company’s head of sustainability, Bear Perez, also went on record just over one year ago to say that Coca-Cola will not ditch single-use plastics in the immediate future.

It seems things may have changed since then, however, as Coca-Cola is now beginning to test run bottles made almost entirely from paper. The intention is to eventually remove all plastic from its packaging.

What is this prototype?

The paper bottle is being developed by external Danish company Paboco.

There are various challenges to overcome with a paper bottle. For one, it needs to withstand the strong pressure used to produce fizzy drinks like beer and cola – an exploding paper mush wouldn’t exactly be an ideal alternative to plastic packaging.

It also needs to be mouldable in order to create unique, branded bottle shapes. An IRN-BRU bottle looks different to a Fanta bottle, for example, and paper alternatives will need to be malleable enough to create various different designs. The paper must also cope with ink and sticky labels.

Paboco’s prototype has been in development for seven years but is now finally entering a trial phase in Hungary this summer. 2000 paper bottles will be distributed to a local retail chain.

Keep in mind that Coca-Cola isn’t the only brand to jump on board the paper hype. Absolut and Carlsberg are both working with Paboco on similar products and plan to test them in the UK and Sweden in the coming year. Exciting stuff.

What does it mean for Coca-Cola’s future?

Before you get too excited, however, this first iteration of the paper bottle isn’t perfect. It still uses a thin plastic lining and features a plastic screw component to secure the lid. While the amount of plastic being used is reduced significantly, it’s still not entirely waste-free.

In addition, Coca-Cola’s huge environmental impact extends beyond just single-use materials such as plastic. The company’s insanely large production rates cause huge amounts of water waste, often leading to polluted rivers and lakes for those living near Coca-Cola factories.

In 2018, The Verge ran an extensive piece on the company’s false advertising regarding its ‘circular water system’ and we’ve written before about its legal troubles and greenwashing.

So while an industry wide shift to sustainably sourced paper bottles is a good thing, we should probably wait to see some results before we give these giant, pollutant-heavy corporate titans the benefit of the doubt.

Once that waste-free, zero carbon Coca-Cola bottle is in my hands, I’ll take my hat off. Until then I’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation, and I’d encourage you to do the same.


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