Trump card for both circular economy & climate: Coca-Cola tests refill concept for ‚to go‘

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Trump card for both circular economy & climate: Coca-Cola tests refill concept for ‚to go‘

Thomas Reiner | 14.01.2021

Coca-Cola is trialing a refill concept for drinks ‚to go‘ in Sweden, where GLACIAL reusable containers can be purchased at PBX-Reitan convenience stores and refilled at Coca-Cola stations. However, the offer is also open to other self-brought containers. Coca-Cola’s aim with the campaign is to not only reduce potential littering, but also the carbon footprint of packaging. The approach thus combines the issues of circular economy and climate. This is exactly what will soon be standard. Reusable concepts will thus become the trump card.


Refill concepts for beverages to go currently still eke out a niche existence. But this will change, because reusable beverages promise sustainable advantages both in the establishment of the circular economy and in the fight against global warming. Coca-Cola has recognised this and is now testing a corresponding concept in Sweden.


Open container concept

Consumers can buy special GLACIAL reusable containers at the Coca-Cola stations in the PBX-Reitans convenience stores and fill them with up to 60 different flavours. The GLACIAL containers are said to keep drinks cool for up to 12 hours.

A big plus point of the project is that there is no compulsory use of the GLACIAL containers on offer. This means that customers can also fill their own reusable containers at the beverage stations.


Central role of packaging at Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) has introduced a group-wide climate strategy in 2020. The goal: net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The central lever: packaging. According to Coca-Cola, they account for over 40 percent of the company’s carbon dioxide emissions. Earlier in the year, Coca-Cola in Sweden became the first market in the world to switch its PET beverage bottle portfolio to 100 per cent recycled plastic.



Reitan Convenience opened its first shops in Stockholm in the summer of 2021. The company’s goal with its new PBX brand is to establish the world’s most sustainable convenience stores. Behind this is the conviction that sustainability is no longer just “nice to have”, but is becoming a necessity for convenience providers. Reitan developed its strategy in 2019 in cooperation with the sustainability agency Prosperous Planet.


Reusable pays twice.

Coca-Cola and Reitan are targeting consumer behaviour with their concept and want to promote the refilling of beverage containers. This should not only reduce the CO2 footprint of the packaging, but also reduce possible littering.

The combination of circularity to avoid plastic waste and climate protection by reducing the CO2 impact is promising. Because it simultaneously pays off on two of the most pressing challenges of our time.


New today – binding tomorrow

What is new and innovative today will soon be a binding standard: circular solutions without climate benefits are no longer sustainable in the long run. There is no way around thinking about both issues together and pushing them forward hand in hand.

Reusable and refill concepts have the potential to contribute equally to both issues. The path taken by Coca-Cola and Reitan in Sweden will set a precedent. We will see more such approaches.

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Top 3 levers for reducing plastic waste from packaging

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Top 3 levers for reducing plastic waste from packaging

Thomas Reiner | 13.12.2021

8% by avoiding unnecessary packaging, 9% by substituting plastic with materials with a smaller eco-footprint, 23% through reusable concepts: These are the savings potentials of the top 3 levers for avoiding plastic waste at the material level. In practice, however, only two of the three levers have been successful so far. In the case of the reusable concepts, the logistical hurdles in particular are still proving to be too high.


Which measures promise success in the fight against plastic waste in the packaging sector? What is (still) theory and what already works in practice? At Fachpack 2021, Matthias Giebel, sustainability pioneer and partner at Berndt+Partner Consultants, together with Sophie Hermann, partner at SYSTEMIQ, discussed which innovations packaging and the packaging industry need in order to achieve the desired sustainability goals as part of an expert talk entitled “Disruption wanted”.

Part of Giebel and Hermann’s analysis also included the results of a recent study by WWF entitled “Packaging turnaround now! How to succeed in the transformation to a circular economy for plastics in Germany.” The study was prepared in cooperation with SYSTEMIQ and discussed at Fachpack.


Key statements of the WWF study

Through a comprehensive system change based on seven central “system measures” (levers), the following can be achieved in Germany by 2040

  • the total volume of waste can be reduced by 40% and 20 million tons of plastic can be saved,
  • the incineration of waste for energy generation can be reduced by over 70%,
  • Greenhouse gases in the order of 68 million tons can be saved.


The top 3 levers

The top 3 levers of system change were discussed and evaluated by Giebel and Hermann during a Packbox Talk at Fachpack.

  • Top 1 – Reusable concepts: Reusable concepts offer a high benefit of plastics and could reduce plastic waste by up to 23%.
  • Top 2 – Substitution: up to 9% of all single-use plastics can be replaced via substitution with materials with a smaller environmental footprint. Substitution with paper accounts for 8% and substitution with compostable materials accounts for 1%.
  • Top 3 – Avoidance and minimization: Avoiding and minimizing unnecessary packaging can reduce plastic waste by up to 8%.


Practicality check

Matthias Giebel also tested the levers for their practicality and analyzed the current status of implementation in practice. His conclusion: “Numerous activities can already be recorded for levers two and three. The targeted potentials appear to be quite realistic here.

In contrast, there is still a substantial gap between theory and practice in the case of the top one lever, “reusable concepts.“ The logistical challenges of return logistics in particular are proving to be an obstacle here. This also defines the central challenge that the packaging value chain must face intensively.

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The packaging industry is highly ripe for the platform economy

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The packaging industry is highly ripe for the platform economy

Thomas Reiner | 06.12.2021

High fragmentation, high capital lock-in, low transparency: these three factors are the key indicators for an industry that is more than ready for the platform economy. And we can say with all our insights that the packaging industry fits perfectly into this pattern. The first players have already entered the field and the question is no longer whether platforms will become widespread, but only when. The platform attractant is called agility. This makes it the future of the industry – not only for digital native brands, even if they are the pioneers.


Benoit Reillier and Laure Claire Reillier are co-founders of the consultancy Launchworks, which helps companies develop and spread innovative business models. In their book Platform Strategy: How to Unlock the Power of Communities and Networks to Grow Your Business, they discuss three signs of industries that are highly ripe for a platform economy:

  1. a high degree of fragmentation on the supply and demand side
  2. a high level of capital tied up in production equipment and machinery with low capacity utilisation at the same time
  3. a great lack of transparency


The packaging industry is highly mature

We can only agree with this analysis. And we can say with all our insights for the packaging industry that our industry is more than ripe for the platform economy.


First players

The first players have already entered the field. These include:

  • Lumi: The Californian start-up offers end-to-end software for packaging and supply chain management. The tools are designed to simplify the complex workflow and enable direct, simple collaboration between brands and packaging manufacturers.
  • Packpart: The whole world of the packaging industry on one platform is the claim of the German start-up. The company sees itself as a digital contact for packaging machines, used machines, contract manufacturers and machine efficiency enhancement.
  • Recyfy: The Berlin-based start-up describes itself as a marketplace for the efficient trade of waste paper between paper mills, waste disposal companies, traders and sources.
  • Packmatic: Also based in Berlin, Packmatic advertises that it can find the ideal flexible packaging solution for products and manage it online.


The lure is agility

Digital native brands in particular have been using the services of platform providers up to now. The reasons are obvious. In addition to the distinct usability, it is especially the promise of high agility that makes the platforms so attractive.

A promise that holds water, because agility is a core issue for the traditional industry in particular, which still struggles with it often enough. This is precisely why platforms with their high agility are the future image of the industry.


The die is cast – also for big brands

It is no longer just digital native brands that use these platforms. There is also movement among the big brands. Only a manageable number of the big ones are still relying on the platform players. But the wave is already building. The game will turn. It is no longer a question of whether the platform economy will establish itself across the board. It’s now only about when it will.

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New report discloses Coca-Cola and Unilever as top 3 plastic polluters

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New report discloses Coca-Cola and Unilever as top 3 plastic polluters

Thomas Reiner | 03.12.2021

Coca-Cola and Unilever are among the biggest global plastic polluters, according to the latest report from the Break Free From Plastic organisation. Nestlé, Mondelēz, Danone and Mars are also prominently listed. Plastic is and remains the “bad guy”. And there is no end in sight to the “plastic bashing” – on the contrary. Therefore, brands will resort to ever more radical measures to achieve their sustainability goals. Basically, it shows: the direction is right, but progress is too slow. And: recyclability alone is not enough. We need more use of recyclates and reusables.


In its annual report, the sustainability organisation Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) has listed the ten food and beverage companies whose products generate the most plastic waste. The report is based on “brand audits” for which over 11,000 volunteers in 45 countries collected and evaluated plastic waste.

Coca-Cola tops the ranking of the “biggest plastic polluters” for the fourth year in a row. It is followed by PepsiCo., Unilever, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Danone and Mars.


The sustainability dilemma

All of the top 7 plastic offenders listed in the report have developed sustainability strategies and committed to achieving corresponding targets and have taken action to this end. Unilever, for example, aims to reduce total plastic consumption by a third by 2025. Others, such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé, are testing alternative packaging or have already introduced it for parts of their portfolio.

The BFFP report details that some consumer goods manufacturers have managed to reduce their plastic consumption “modestly” in 2020. Coca-Cola and Mars, on the other hand, have seen an increase – which presumably stems from more products sold as a “bane of success”.

For Break Free From Plastic, the problem lies in the design of the companies’ sustainability promises. More precisely: there is a lack of a holistic view of plastic reduction along the entire supply chain.


Spotlight Coca-Cola

Those who follow our blog know that Coca-Cola has continuously launched sustainability initiatives in recent years. These include the switch to bottles made from 100 per cent recyclable plastic by 2025, the introduction of a PlantBottle made partly from plant-based plastic or, most recently, a first reusable-to-go project in Sweden. It is no coincidence that the beverage giant was therefore ranked as the consumer goods company with the highest transparency and recycling commitment in a report by the non-profit organisation “As You Sow” in autumn 2021.

Despite this, the company has consistently topped Break Free From Plastic’s plastic sinner rankings since 2018. According to the report, “brand audits” recorded 19,826 pieces of plastic waste from Coca-Cola products in 2021. This was more than double the number recorded in 2018 and more in total waste than the waste from PepsiCo and Unilever combined.


Plastic bashing: no end in sight

The latest BFFP report powerfully shows that plastic continues to be the big bad boy of the sustainability movement. And it shows that despite their best efforts, the big consumer goods companies continue to fight and struggle with the issue.

This is where it will remain in the long run. The issue is not going to go away; on the contrary, it will continue to gain momentum.


The solution(s)

Against this backdrop, brands will resort to ever more drastic and radical measures to achieve the sustainability goals they have set for themselves. The direction has been right for some time now. The reduction and/or substitution of plastic with other materials has gained momentum.

Nevertheless, the overall pace of change remains manageable. The industry needs to increase the speed significantly to get a grip on the problem.

Above all, the focus must not remain limited to recyclability. What we need, on the contrary, is much more use of recyclates and a strong expansion of reusable solutions. Without these measures, consumer goods manufacturers will not get a grip on their plastic problem.

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