In the keynote presentation at Plastics Caps + Closures 2023, Jacob Long, Coca-Cola Co.'s senior manager of global procurement, focused on his company's sustainability efforts and the challenges facing industry and individuals.
The top priority in closures, he said, is reducing virgin material use by two paths: incorporating post-consumer high density polyethylene (rHDPE), and downsizing closures and neck finishes from 28 millimeters (1.1 inches) to 26 mm (1 inch).
So far, these measures are taking place mainly overseas, though Coca-Cola already uses a small amount of recycled HDPE in its Dasani water bottles in the U.S.
While closures make up a very small part of Coca-Cola's resin use, with these efforts the company expects to save more than 150,000 metric tons (almost 330.7 million pounds) of material annually.
The company also is seeing a boost in plastic closure recycling in the European Union, where legislation will require tethered closures by July 3, 2024. Long said the company is currently at 50 percent conversion to tethered closures in those areas and will reach 100 percent by the deadline. He admitted, however, that companies aren't likely to invest in conversion efforts elsewhere, including the United States, unless driven by such legislation.
Also, despite rising interest in chemical recycling (also called advanced recycling), Coca-Cola remains focused on mechanical recycling for now. Long said he sees mechanical recycling as a more sustainable technology that produces higher yields and fewer emissions, while requiring less energy. Yet, there will be a place for chemical recycling in Coca-Cola's future.
"[There are] some areas of the world where mechanically recycled food-grade material is not legally permitted in our beverage closures, so in those areas, advanced recycling will move a little bit faster," he said.