Coca-Cola plans to do a test-run of 2,000 paper bottles this summer to see how they perform in the marketplace and with consumers. The prototype was made “by a Danish company from an extra-long paper shell that still contains a thin plastic liner.” It is a first step in a long-term project of completely ridding plastic from the company’s drink containers.
The goal, as reported by BBC, is to make a bottle that is “100% recyclable” and “plastic-free” that is also able to prevent “gas escaping from carbonated drinks.” Another requirement is to make sure that no parts of the container can fall into the liquid, which would change how the drink tastes, and make the beverages “potentially fall foul of health and safety checks.”
Coca-Cola has reportedly set a goal of “producing zero waste by 2030.” This comes after a charity group called “Break Free From Plastic” ranked the company as the top polluter of plastic in the world last year. The group conducted a survey that found “[Coca-Cola’s] drink bottles were the most commonly found item left on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 countries that took part in the survey.” This was an increase in Coca-Cola’s numbers from the previous year, when the beverage giant was only the “most frequently littered bottle in 37 out of 51 countries.”
The company took note, and as BBC reported:
A spokesperson for The Coca-Cola Company told Newsround “we are making progress” in addressing this important issue and it is committed “to get every bottle back by 2030, so that none of it ends up as litter or in the oceans, and the plastic can be recycled into new bottles.”
The firm behind the creation of Coca-Cola’s new paper-based vessel is The Paper Bottle Company, or Paboco.
According to the BBC, some challenges have arisen from creating such a device, one of them being the fact that carbonated drinks, “such as cola and beer,” are put into containers under pressure, and it is difficult to construct something that will hold up against the intensity of “fizzy drinks.”
The paper also has to be “moldable” for the many uniquely sized bottles. It also needs to be able to be marked with ink for the labels.
The first trial of the bottle will take place in Hungary this summer after seven years of work in a lab. The Coca-Cola fruit drink, Adez, will be the first to be distributed with the bottle through a local retail chain.
Other companies have also enlisted the paper bottle-making firm, including Absolut, the vodka-maker, which “is due to test 2,000 paper bottles of [its] own in the UK and Sweden of its pre-mixed, carbonated raspberry drink. And beer company Carlsberg is also building prototypes of a paper beer bottle.”
The bottles have not been tested in the world yet, so the trials of Absolut and Coca-Cola will demonstrate adjustments that might need to be made.
“We have a good understanding already of what the bottle will go through as we put it into the real world,” says Michael Michelsen, the firm’s commercial manager. “But there is a certain point where you just can’t design yourself out of this at a desk, right? You need to get into that real world and you need to get that real world feedback.”
Another concern behind the long-term goal of creating paper bottles is the cost.
According to BBC, Packaging Europe magazine Digital Editor Fin Slater says, “Paper bottles are really exciting for packaging innovation geeks like us,” however, they will be “a niche product for a while yet” even if the pilot programs to test them move ahead smoothly.
BBC also paraphrases Slater, noting that “[plastic] bottles are embedded in the industry, and in many countries, are widely recycled.”
The prototype of the paper container does not entirely accomplish the main goal of creating a plastic-free bottle, and the next step will be to add a “plant-based coating on the inside of the bottle” so the paper doesn’t come into contact with liquid. Paper caps will also need to be added, so eventually, the production lines that make the plastic bottles will need to be “adapted for an all-paper cap.”
Coca-Cola perhaps sees this step as just the beginning of a new way to transport their products.
“A paper bottle opens up a whole new world of packaging possibilities,” said Stijn Franssen, R&D packaging innovation manager, Coca-Cola EMEA, “and we are convinced that paper packaging has a role to play in the future.”