Food and beverage packaging is an important part of our modern lives. Yet it is clear the world has a waste problem, with plastic pollution becoming an increasingly important social and environmental concern.

Like many companies with popular products, our packaging has contributed to this waste challenge and we have a responsibility to help solve this problem. We believe by investing in our planet and our packaging, we can help make the world’s packaging waste problem a thing of the past.

In 2018, the Coca-Cola Company announced its World Without Waste vision, which committed to an ambitious goal: to collect and recycle the equivalent of a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030, reaching a 100% collection and recycling rate of all our packaging. The vision also includes ensuring all of our packaging is 100% recyclable by 2025 and that our PET bottles are made with an average of 50% recycled content.

Here are five ways we are putting the World Without Waste vision into action across Africa; cleaning up our plastic footprint while at the same time creating income opportunities and boosting the circular economy.

1. We’re creating a sustainable collection & recycling model (PETCO)

There is much debate about the best model to use to encourage the collection and recycling of PET. In Africa, we have had much success with a Voluntary End Producer Responsibility (VEPR) model, where the beverage and packaging industries come together to promote and finance the recycling of PET plastic, taking responsibility for recovering and recycling PET plastic. This is driven through The PET recycling company (PETCO), funded by industry through a levy on PET resin and in-aid grants. The PETCO model has proved so successful that we are now replicating it across Africa and other parts of the world.

PETCO in South Africa has driven the in-country recycling of PET plastic bottles up from 14% in 2005 to over 65% of beverage PET bottles in 2018. This puts South Africa ahead of developed markets, such as the EU (2016: 60%) and US (2016: 28.4%) when it comes to PET collection and recycling rates.

As a direct consequence of the financial stimulus provided by Coke together with industry, over the past decade, the recycling ecosystem in South Africa has grown into a thriving ZAR250m ($16m)/year industry, providing income opportunities for more than 64,000 people, and creating small, entrepreneurial waste collection businesses along the value chain.

Building on this experience in South Africa, Coca-Cola, its bottling partners, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and other industry players launched PETCO in Kenya, as a voluntary industry extended producer responsibility scheme in June 2018. This scheme has now also been introduced in Ethiopia. In Tanzania, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana, we have contracted with external recyclers to buy post-consumer PET bottles and incentivize local collectors to recover our packaging.

The strength of the PETCO model is that the PET collected is recycled in the same country and not exported. Of course, voluntary systems such as these require ongoing financial support from all industry players to remain sustainable. We provide support in the form of a recycling fee and an annual grant paid to PETCO. Partnerships such as PETCO help create a closed-loop system that benefits the environment, serves communities and begins charting a path of shared opportunity for future generations.

2. We’re creating a true circular economy

Whether it’s using more recycled content, reducing the amount of plastic in bottles through light-weighting, developing plant-based resins or experimenting with ways to eliminate packaging altogether, we’re investing in our packaging to design better bottles. Our innovation labs are looking for ways to ensure that every bottle has the opportunity of more than one life – whether the materials are used to make another bottle, a T-shirt, a carpet or furniture. No matter what they become, the reuse of PET bottles should be maximized, while minimizing their impact on the environment.

We’ve already implemented improvements in our packaging. Our EcoTwist technology on Bonaqua water bottles uses 12% less PET, to allow bottles to be easily compacted and take up less space in the recycling bin. Our Valpre bottles are made with up to 30% plant-based raw materials.

Importantly, we are investing in increasing the amount of recycled PET (rPET) in our beverage bottles. Currently, on average our PET bottles in South Africa contain 17% of rPET; We are working on an average of 50% rPET. We will be launching a 100% rPET bottle on our Bonaqua water brand this year.

3. We’re partnering across all sectors to support healthy, debris-free environments and oceans

No one organization can solve the world’s plastic problems. Plastics are ubiquitous, and there are numerous types – PET is just one of many. That’s why we work with our bottling partners, governments, NGOS, communities to help try to address the wider issue of plastics and pollution. Through programmes like regular beach and river clean-ups and other ongoing local activities, we’re supporting collection and recycling efforts at a local level. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work across all markets. Instead, a market-by-market approach helps determine whether existing systems are adequate for increased recycling.

Across Africa, we’ve partnered with organizations that cover the entire life cycle of the package – from suppliers, innovators, collectors, recyclers, NGOs and governments. We partner with organizations such as the Ocean Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and our competitors in our ongoing sustainability efforts.

For example, earlier in the year, with the leadership of our bottling partner Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, we launched the African Plastics Recycling Alliance with Diageo, Nestle and Unilever to transform plastics recycling infrastructure across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through the Alliance, companies will facilitate and support their local subsidiaries to engage in market-level public-private partnerships (PPPs) and industry collaborations. The Alliance will promote innovation and collaborate on technical solutions to local initiatives that will improve plastics collection and recycling. Companies will also engage with the investment community and policy-makers to accelerate the development and financing of waste management infrastructure and systems, which in turn is expected to create jobs and commercial activity.

4. We’re making collection more accessible and helping people understand what, how and where to collect for recycling

An essential part of improving recycling rates is taking the consumer along with us. This means educating people about the best ways to collect their packaging. We have started the process of applying our marketing expertise, marketing assets and media relationships to drive behaviour change and change people’s waste habits, from anti-littering to separating recyclables from organic waste at their homes.

We also partner with schools to develop a new generation of eco-champions to drive collection in their communities.

One of our bottlers, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) drives a successful Schools Collection for Recycling Programme, which saw 866 schools collecting and creating a revenue steam from waste materials such as PET bottles, paper, plastic and cans by selling them on to be recycled. During 2018, 2,324 tons of recyclable waste was collected, benefiting 700,000 learners. As part of the programme, 12,990 educators were involved in teaching learners about recycling so that they could take the recycling message home to their communities, too, building a culture of environmental stewardship.

5. We’re sharing our expertise to help solve the problem

The strength of the World Without Waste strategy is that it centres on partnership – bringing people together to help turn waste into worth. We are applying our convening power to bring the right partners to the table to find solutions to this global problem. This includes sharing expertise, resources and technology.

Our World Without Waste vision charts a way forward to a more sustainable world, where public, private and civic organizations work together to solve the packaging problem and turn waste into worth for future generations of Africans.