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Coca-Cola innovation aims to cap plastic waste

This month, global drinks giant Coca-Cola announced that it will introduce bottles with attached plastic caps in the UK, in an effort to boost recycling and prevent litter.   

More than 7.7 billion plastic bottles are sold across the UK each year, with the bottle caps often removed and sometimes dropped as litter. The new design means that the cap stays connected to the bottle after opening, so the whole plastic bottle and attached cap can be recycled together, reducing the potential for it to be littered. 

The new lids will initially be rolled-out on 1.5 litre bottles of Fanta, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Diet Coke in Scotland this month, and the switch is set to be completed for all plastic bottles across the Coca-Cola Great Britain range by early 2024. 

While the move will undoubtedly have benefits in terms of recycling and reducing litter, the new design will also improve the situation for recycling companies.  

There is some confusion among consumers about whether to leave the bottle cap on or take it off during recycling. Advances in technology mean that bottles and caps should be recycled together (ideally, plastic bottles should be emptied, dried and flattened, with the cap re-attached prior to entering the recycling stream). The new bottle design from Coca-Cola makes it very difficult for the cap to get separated during the recycling process, ensuring a greater volume of plastic is collected.  

The UK is steadily building up its plastic recycling and reprocessing capabilities, with around 150,000 tonnes of additional capacity coming on stream during 2021. In preparation for the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax, which came into effect last month, there has been a huge growth in UK plastics recycling capacity, as Government, companies and society have acknowledged the need to recycle more of this increasingly valuable and sought-after commodity.  

The move by Coca-Cola may seem like a simple change, but small innovations can add up to make a big difference. Coca-Cola’s sheer size and market share mean any change it makes, whether to include more recycled content in its packaging, or to improve product design, will have a big difference. More innovations are clearly needed to further reduce plastic waste, but Coca-Cola’s move shows the private sector is willing to take positive steps in the right direction.