(Source: Coca-Cola)

Beverage bottles should remain beverage bottles

Enhanced recycling compensates for outflows

With a view to 2020 and its economic and social challenges, Coca-Cola is reaffirming its sustainability goals and calls the programme “World without waste”.

A bold statement: No packaging from Coca-Cola should end up in the sea, in the countryside or landfills. In Europe, this is to be achieved by 2025, worldwide by 2030. This task requires a good plan.

In Europe, Dr. Stefan Kunerth, Technical Operations Director Western Europe, coordinates the programme. He knows the drivers that help to achieve the goal: Design, Collect, Partners. That means recyclability, optimized collection systems and partners working on innovative solutions to rethink recycling processes.

One of these partners is Morssinkhof Plastics, a recycling company in the Netherlands. Since 2010, Morssinkhof Plastics has been supplying CocaCola with MOPET, Morssinkhof’s rPET from mechanical recycling, produced with technologies developed in-house Morssinkhof. “Coca-Cola approves them for bottles made from 100% rPET”, says Matthijs Veerman, Business Development Manager at Morssinkhof Plastics B.V. MOPET was first used for Coca-Cola bottles made from 100% rPET in 2015. Hence a lot of experience in terms of technology and partnership is available.

No rPET without used PET bottles

It is no coincidence that the “World without Waste” initiative is picking up speed in Europe, as you will find highly developed collection systems here - the basis for the availability of the required feedstock: used PET beverage bottles. In other regions of the world, the hurdles are significantly higher. In Germany, Coca-Cola is initially offering the Vio mineral water brand in 100% rPET bottles. “In Norway and Sweden, we have switched our entire portfolio to 100% rPET bottles since the beginning of 2020”, says Kunerth.

One of the sources from which Morssinkhof obtains its incoming goods at its recycling plant in the Netherlands is the German deposit system. 60,000 t rPET per year - that is the amount that Morssinkhof produces at its production facility. Morssinkhof delivers them to the Coca-Cola preform production plant in Halle in Germany. The transport is currently still holding back Morssinkhof’s idea of optimal sustainability. Veerman: “Sustainability and regionality belong together.” That is why Morssinkhof is currently building a recycling plant near the preform plant in Halle. Commissioning is imminent. Production target: 40,000 t rPET per year. This will bring Morssinkhof to a total of 100,000 t rPET per year.

Sounds like a good starting point, because the successful use of 100% rPET begins with a well-organized collection and high-quality recycling. The emphasis here is on “begins”. Veerman knows: “For the 100% rPET ambition, we need more than classic mechanical recycling.” According to Veerman, the quality of the MOPET material corresponds to virgin material - also in the cycle for food applications. But the bottles’ colour would change: “rPET bottles get a little darker from cycle to cycle.” But it is even more about material losses. Veerman: “We will not achieve 100% a return even in the long term”.


Can polyester material from other sources fill the gap?

Consequently, it is necessary to increase the input amount. The aim is to obtain rPET from other polyester sources. While mechanical recycling reaches its limits, so-called “enhanced recycling” starts right here. The input material can be clothing textiles, carpets or technical textiles from the automotive sector. Veerman also mentions PET applications from the food sector that cannot be mechanically recycled: coloured PET bottles, bottles with a barrier layer or PET packaging from thermoforming: trays for salads, baked goods, meat.

A technology is needed that makes these material flows fit for high-quality reuse in an efficient manner. CuRe Technology deals with this approach, and the vision is a fully circular polyester chain. In the current phase, it becomes apparent that 100% rPET - consisting of 70% from mechanical recycling and 30% from enhanced CuRe recycling - can be a material from which 100% rPET bottles can be made. The result is clear bottles that meet all quality requirements.

With the development of CuRe Technology Cumapol, DSM-Niaga, DuFor, Morssinkhof and the NHL Stenden University are jointly on the way to a scalable solution. Veerman thinks big: “We are in the pilot phase, currently preparing the process for industrial scale. In the long term, we will need locations worldwide, because waste materials for which mechanical recycling is not suitable occur everywhere.”

Matthijs Veerman: ''We are in the pilot phase, currently preparing the process for industrial scale. In the long term, we will need locations worldwide, because waste materials for which mechanical recycling is not suitable occur everywhere.''

Coca-Cola supports enhanced recycling projects such as CuRe Technology to explore options. In 2019 Coca-Cola presented the “Marine Littering” bottle. It was also created in cooperation with a startup from enhanced recycling, Ioniqa Technologies, also from the Netherlands.

Kunerth: “We can well imagine that enhanced recycling processes that cut back polymer structures to a certain degree and generate new material from them are beneficial for us on the way to our ambitious goals. That is why we take a closer look and, together with CCEP*, provide our expertise, also time and money.”


Various stakeholder competing for rPET

Kunerth sees mechanical recycling as the backbone for PET recycling - and has the competition for the material in mind. For him, it is not just about the fact that competitors in the market will also increase the rPET share in their packaging and that competition will increase as a result. From his point of view, it is imperative to keep the packaging that is qualified to be used for food - in his words, the “supreme discipline” - in the cycle of food packaging. “It is a shame when rPET material flows out of this stream to other industries and is therefore no longer available for renewed food use after mechanical recycling. The material is not only used in textiles, but also in packaging for detergents and cleaning agents, for example, or in film. So it is lost for food applications.” In Kunerth’s view, PET from beverage bottles should first be used for beverage bottles. Any gap that arises due to process losses etc. can be closed with “enhanced recycling” to guarantee a closed cycle in the long term.

This is how it can work in markets that operate a sophisticated collection system for PET beverage bottles. It ensures that 100% of food-grade PET arrives at the recycling plants. In the German market with the established deposit system, 95% of all bottles are returned.

For Kunerth, the prospects that enhanced recycling offers for the future is essential: It increases flexibility and creates independence. And that in the long term and regardless of location. Kunerth: “That is why we see it as the right way to invest in enhanced recycling processes: We are gaining a further component to stabilize the cycle.” *


*Coca-Cola European Partners

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