COCA-COLA SOUTHWEST BEVERAGES LEADS THE CHARGE IN SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING
(BPT) – By Abraham Tueme, CCSWB Director of Sustainability
When it comes to our environment, recycled plastic bottles are a tremendous benefit. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute worldwide — so every recycled bottle counts.
Many of these bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic that is entirely recyclable and requires less energy to produce, cutting greenhouse emissions and waste. However, even these recyclable plastics find their way into the waste stream.
The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) found that in 2021, only 36.8% of PET bottles were recycled in North America. While this is a slight increase from previous years, it’s clear that more needs to be done to keep plastic bottles out of the waste stream.
Fortunately, there are ways to make plastic bottles more sustainable and Arca Continental Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages (CCSWB) is leading the charge. As CCSWB’s director of sustainability, I’ve seen firsthand how the company deploys a range of initiatives to lower our environmental footprint and protect natural resources, including maximizing our use of recycled plastic.
Sustainability in action
As one of the nation’s largest bottlers of Coca-Cola products, we see sustainability as our responsibility. It’s an opportunity to innovate and support our communities to make them beautiful, clean and happy. Last year, we became the first Coca-Cola bottler in the U.S. to use an average of 50% recycled PET (rPET) plastic in its bottles, a goal achieved nine years ahead of its initial goal of 2030. Additionally, we collect 7 out of 10 bottles we sell, working with our communities and customers to create recycling access for all.
Much of our efforts are inspired by The Coca-Cola Co.’s World Without Waste strategy, introduced in 2018 to solve the global plastic waste crisis. As part of this strategy, all our 13.2- and 20-ounce bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Dasani water are made entirely of rPET content.
CCSWB’s use of rPET has big payoffs in sustainability. Since early 2020, the company has reduced its carbon emissions by 32 million pounds, a 78-million-pound decrease in annual plastic waste and an 8% cut in its energy usage. Today, we recycle more than half of the bottles and cans we distribute.
Looking forward, our goal is to recycle 100% of our bottles and cans by 2030 and we are in the process of exploring all potential alternatives to get us there.
Community sustainability efforts
As a company of Arca Continental, we prioritize and incorporate sustainability in all aspects of our business. Our efforts not only support internal operations, but also promote sustainability in our local communities. This approach enables us to make a positive difference and protect the environments in which we operate.
CCSWB is also working to collect recyclable materials and promote sustainability in actionable ways in the territories we serve. We’re collaborating with local governments, community organizations and industry partners on recycling education and infrastructure programs to create closed-loop recycling systems. By doing so, rPET bottles and other recyclables can be collected and used to create raw materials for new bottles.
An excellent example of these community efforts happened during the 2023 NCAA Women’s Final Four Tournament in Dallas, Texas. CCSWB supported recycling at the American Airlines Center by installing 12 SmartSort units that use artificial intelligence to determine instantly whether a discarded item is recyclable. These machines can track how many items were recycled and where they were sent after being discarded, creating traceability and transparency in the recycling process.
We’re also helping municipalities enhance their recycling capabilities. For example, CCSWB began working in December 2020 with the McAllen Recycling Center and Keep McAllen Beautiful to boost capacity by improving processes and educating the community.
The project has been a tremendous success, with the recycling center tripling recycling output in just over two years. It’s amazing how quickly you can begin to see strides toward long-lasting impact. We are proud of the model and look forward replicating it with additional partners.
Making an impact beyond recycling
Our sustainability mission doesn’t stop with recycling plastic beverage bottles. CCSWB is making headway on several other initiatives. From purchasing renewable energy for deregulated locations in Texas to planting trees across Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and the Travis County Watershed, we are invested in positively impacting the local environment.
CCSWB has several water initiatives underway. The company has donated to Ducks Unlimited to build a levee south of Dallas to recapture floodwaters and return them to the Trinity River. Additionally, to promote water replenishment across Texas, we’ve provided empty ingredient barrels to local nonprofits to collect rainwater. Our partnership with the Galveston Bay Foundation in particular has saved more than 20 million gallons of water since 2013.
Engaging the community with a hands-on approach is also an important part of our mission. CCSWB aids in environmental cleanups with local Keep America Beautiful/Keep Texas Beautiful chapters. This year, we sponsored Trinity Park Conservancy’s Earth Day efforts, providing volunteers to help the group and the City of Dallas with a local cleanup.
Sustainability isn’t just a concept. For CCSWB, it’s part of our business’s mission. To learn more about CCSWB and its sustainability mission, visit https://cocacolaswb.com/sustainability/.