Photo credit: Coca-Cola


Sustainability in Times of Corona

With the corona pandemic, we are in a global crisis of unprecedented magnitude. What does that mean for you? And what advice can you give when you talk about crisis management and your area of responsibility - supply chain?
Kunerth: In my opinion, when it comes to communication, empathy and flexibility are most important...

Read here the full interview

You have to consider the delivery routes in particular for refillable products. Compared to refillable glass systems, PET refillable bottles have clear advantages in terms of carbon footprint. But is one-way PET, in the full sense of the word, one-way? Finally, the material runs in a closedloop 

Kunerth: Provided that we succeed in keeping the PET material in its purity in circulation, and in avoiding downcycling and if we then produce new bottles from the recycled material, these bottles are certainly not typical single-use products. These bottles have multiple lives. If you then look at the respective systems, such a “one-way” (non-refillable) PET bottle can, from the CO2 balance, also compete against refillable systems. These comparisons always have to be considered very individually according to the type of packaging and sales channel.


Due to the pandemic, the consumption of plastics has increased significantly. E.g. for packaging because product protection has come to the fore. Or the individual protection with masks or disinfectants. How do you assess the consumer view: are plastics even seen with different eyes? Does the consumer relate the increase due to requirements such as protection and security? Or does he forget that he caused it himself and will he complain in the end that the plastic flood has increased further?

Kunerth: That is complex. I see three levels: Studies show that pandemic places even greater emphasis on sustainability. We will see how this affects in the long term. The second level shows short-term effects: It can acutely be a kind of shift. I can see that from my perspective: due to the situation, I consume a lot more at home. There is no daily visit to the company restaurant, no restaurant visits at all - during business trips, of course also privately. So I also produce more waste at home. And the third facet is product hygiene. Consumers felt - and still do - that packaged products are safe. That could explain the increase in packaging waste. All these points make it all the more clear that we have to pay more attention than ever to design and manufacture packaging in such a way that the material can run in circulation for as long as possible.


Currently, we are observing corona outbreaks in personnel-intensive production plants in Germany and other countries. Acutely, it affects the meat processing industry. Does that make you sit up and take an even closer look to ensure safety in the production facilities?

Kunerth: Right from the start, we implemented the hygiene measures that were also specified by public authorities. Everyone knows the triad: distance, mask, washing hands. We have a very cooperative atmosphere; we give consideration; the level of mutual understanding and empathy is high. I think it is clear to everyone that it depends on the individual, that it is about their health, that of the family. As CocaCola, of course, we have to consistently ensure that all of our employees can and will observe the hygiene measures. That is achieved through shift models, team building, and home office wherever possible. All of this helps to maintain sensitivity.


The pandemic is ruling all of our lives at the moment. But topics that were previously inevitable are not suddenly gone. Let’s talk about sustainability and recycling. Coca-Cola has been running the “World without Waste” campaign since 2018. It’s about the packaging and its design; it’s about collecting the waste, building closedloop systems, working with partners. Now the conditions in the countries are different. A world without waste naturally means all regions of the world. The technical side is easy to describe: recycling-compatible design - that’s doable. Collection - the technical possibilities are there. Is the consumer your partner here?

Kunerth: Yes, the consumer is an essential partner. If we commit to taking back one for every bottle we bring to the market, then the consumer plays a crucial role. The situation in the markets is very different. We here in Germany have a system - for one-way and for refillable - that incentivizes the consumer when he brings his bottles back. Bringing them back has become a habit for German consumers. Not everywhere, people are aware that the supposed waste is a raw material, valuable material. Consumers must take for granted that something new can emerge from the material I used. We support the introduction of deposit systems. We rely on our competition partners to jointly establish efficient systems as part of an alliance. Wherever there are no deposit systems yet, we need partners who help us to avoid littering. We are currently supporting two major initiatives for collecting plastic waste: Mares Circulares on the beaches of the Mediterranean and the Benioff Ocean Initiative, which supports innovative projects for collecting and avoiding plastic waste on nine selected rivers.

What potential do you see in digitalization?

Kunerth: In my view, the “smart bottle” has enormous potential for improving sustainability. Many fields open up here: With coding, with chip technologies, we will be able to overcome barriers in the reusable system. The individualization of bottles means an immense variety of containers. Smart technologies will optimize sorting and handling. Or monitoring product quality. There are already today, albeit on a small scale, medications or comparable products for which, based on their temperature history, the expiry date calculates and updates itself. Smart technology can bring massive support for food waste. Because the “best before” is no longer determined based on statistical knowledge before the product leaves the factory, but rather that the shelf life defines itself, depending on the ambient conditions. A bottle in a beverage kiosk is exposed to different conditions than one in a cold warehouse. Smart technology can also influence the following decision: Will individual bottles or universal bottles prevail? Technologies such as smart labelling or digital printing certainly offer much potential. The interesting question is: Can this compensate for the loss of an individualized bottle shape?


Can it?

Kunerth: In some sales channels with the packaging placed there, this is certainly possible, and other types of packaging design can represent an adequate replacement for individualization through the bottle shape. In other areas where, e.g. one of our icons, the glass contour bottle, is at home, I can hardly imagine replacing the individual containers.


Are there any trends outside of digitalization?

Kunerth: Personalization will gain importance: “Bring your own bottle”. We know the principle from coffee shops. The interesting question is: What does a sustainable bottle look like there? Today you bring your coffee mug and have it refilled. Can we also imagine this trend for beverage packaging? Individualized filling, personalized filling. At trade fairs, suppliers are already showing how it can look like: Filling on demand. A lot will happen there. We have to keep an eye on recyclability in all developments. Recyclability must always be guaranteed. Certainly new materials with better barrier properties for one-way and reusable will play a role in the future.


Coca-Cola contributed to the success of PET packaging. What role does PET play in the packaging mix at Coca-Cola today? Does the phrase apply “No matter whether PET, aluminium or glass - the main thing is that the sales figures are satisfying”?

Kunerth: The lifecycle analysis is crucial. We look closely at each type of packaging, for each size of packaging. We ask ourselves: How can I make individual packaging more sustainable using recycled materials or lightweight? And the occasion for consumption plays a role. Glass is successful in gastronomy; when I do sports or go to festivals, glass is not my first choice. When I buy beverages as a private person, weight plays a role, also in logistics. We take a very close look at all of this. I think it’s the mix that matters. The following applies to one-way PET bottles: increased rPET shares are drivers of sustainability in this segment. And that’s why we’re increasing it. So, we do care about every type of packaging in which we sell our products.

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