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Coca‑Cola North America Ramps Up Reusable Packaging Pilots

Coca‑Cola North America Ramps Up Reusable Packaging Pilots

In this July 11, 2013 photo, a neon sign for Coca Cola is illuminated in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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The Coca‑Cola Company made headlines in early 2022 with the announcement of a new goal supporting its World Without Waste global sustainable packaging strategy: By 2030, 25% of its global product volume will be served to consumers in reusable packaging.

Reusable packaging options include returnable bottles and refillable cups for fountain dispensers. Returnable glass and plastic bottles are a top priority in countries with established reuse infrastructures and supply chains, most notably in Africa, Europe and Latin America. But in North America – where dispensed drinks sold in restaurants, music and sports venues, cinemas and other on-premise outlets comprise a significant portion of the company’s volume – driving adoption of refillable vessels/cups represents a big opportunity to contribute to the global reusable target, reduce single-use waste and limit use of new materials.

The company is accelerating its test-learn-scale approach with several reusable packaging pilots in North America, including a new partnership with r.Cup – which replaces single-use cups with its end-to-end reusable cup solutions to large-scale sports and entertainment venues, cinemas, festivals and events – to help scale up the startup’s turnkey platform in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Washington, D.C. 

“We are working across our supply chain to reduce our environmental impact and ensure all of our packaging has value in the circular economy,” said Anton van Zyl, Director of Sustainable Packaging Strategy, Coca‑Cola North America. “We’re growing reusable cup programs in partnership with our foodservice and on-premise customers. Partnering with innovators like r.Cup is one such example where through pilots we are experimenting, learning and expanding the options for our consumers to enjoy our beverages in reusable packaging.”

Concessionaires can choose from several durable, polypropylene cups – which deliver a more premium drinking experience. Once binned and collected from each location, r.Cup collects, washes, sanitizes, inspects and repackages the cups to be used again. In addition to handling on-site deliveries and pickups, r.Cup supplies collection bins, staff training, signage and social media content. Customers can monitor deliveries, manage inventories and track their environmental impact via r.Cup’s innovative r.Turn technology.

See related article: The Coca-Cola Company and Eight Leading Bottling Partners Announce Creation of $137.7 Million Sustainability-Focused Venture Capital Fund

With Coca‑Cola North America’s support, r.Cup is expanding its infrastructure and frontline capability in key cities. New wash facilities will open later this year, creating dozens of jobs primarily for second chance workers and military veterans and funneling a percentage of profits to local nonprofits who are working to tackle the packaging waste crisis. 

“Our mission is to build a movement – and ultimately an infrastructure – to support the reuse economy while creating a broader economic impact in the community,” said Michael Martin, r.Cup founder and CEO, adding that every element of the closed-loop model is designed to drive operational efficiencies for concessionaires. “Offering reusable cups is a small way we can all make a big dent in the packaging waste challenge.”

r.Cups can be used up to hundreds of times with proper handling and sanitization and then upcycled at the end of their lifecycle.

Coca‑Cola North America is collaborating with local bottling partners to help fountain customers find ways to incorporate reusable packaging solutions into their sustainability programs and business strategies. 

“Our customers are asking for reusable solutions,” van Zyl said, noting that Coca‑Cola recently partnered with a prominent Washington, D.C. venue operator thanks to the r.Cup relationship, and that two movie theaters in Seattle have recently implemented the r.Cup program.

Additional reusable packaging pilots in North America include: partnering with Coca‑Cola Southwest Beverages on a returnable glass bottle pilot in El Paso, Texas; teaming up with Validfill to launch reusable cups with microchip technology and QR-enabled technology for Coca‑Cola Freestyle machines at theme parks, university campuses and cruise ships; collaborating with A&W Canada on an exchangeable cup program; and working with Reuse Seattle to encourage foodservice customers to transition to reusable fountain cups where it makes sense. Additionally, the company is committed to supporting the NextGen Consortium, which focuses on driving circularity of cups and other foodservice packaging.

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