Consumer Packaged Goods & RetailAugust 24, 2022

Sprite retired its green bottles. Here’s why that matters

It’s part of beverage giant Coca-Cola’s effort to increase recylability and drive a circular economy for plastic.
Avatar Patrick Ball

What’s greener than being green? Clear plastic.

That’s why Coca-Cola is retiring Sprite’s green plastic bottles in favor of clear ones. It’s part of the beverage giant’s effort to increase recyclability of its single-use bottles and drive a circular economy for plastic.

Sprite isn’t the only soft drink getting a makeover – Mello Yello, Fresca and Seagram’s will transition to clear plastic bottles, as well – but it’s certainly the most iconic. The green bottles date back to the 1960s, when the lemon-lime soda was first introduced in the United States. They were glass back then, but the single-use PET plastic bottles we’re accustomed to today had become widespread by the early 1990s.

It’s not that the green PET bottles aren’t recyclable – they are. However, the colored plastics are typically separated from clear materials to prevent discoloring of recycled food-grade plastics, Coca-Cola said. As a result, recycled Sprite bottles and other colored PET mostly come back as carpets, clothing and other single-use items.

A circular economy of soda? What’s a circular economy?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines the circular economy as “a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity, loss, waste, and pollution.” It’s driven by design and based upon the principles of eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials and regenerating nature. 

For Sprite, the transition from colored to clear plastic bottles will improve the quality of the recycled material, which should in turn increase the amount of food grade recycled PET (rPET) available for Coca-Cola to use to make more bottles from recycled plastic. In other words, the next bottle of Sprite you drink could come back as a DASANI instead of a carpet.

In addition to the Sprite news, Coca-Cola announced DASANI, another key brand in North America, will introduce bottles made from 100% recycled plastic. In 2023, DASANI’s move to 100% recycled plastic could save more than 20 million pounds of new plastic and cut more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gasses compared to 2019, the company said.

 “Sprite’s move to clear will help us introduce more 100% rPET bottles like DASANI is launching and keep more bottles in the circular economy,” Chris Vallette, SVP of technical innovation and stewardship for Coca-Cola North America, said in an announcement.

Sustainability in consumer packaged goods

Coca-Cola’s move toward a circular economy of plastic is one of many sustainability initiatives across the consumer packaged goods and retail industry and it comes at a time when consumers and regulators alike expect companies to act in more sustainable ways and launch more eco-efficient products. A 2021 study found 70% of US consumers said they’re very likely to purchase from a company that shares their environmental values and 77% said they’d pay a premium for environmentally friendly products. At Dassault Systèmes, we call this trend the Sustainability Mandate.

A few other recent examples of CPG companies investing in sustainability include:

One thing all of these companies have in common is they understand working toward sustainability goals isn’t just good for the planet – it’s good for their businesses. From that perspective, sustainability can be a smart approach to create long-term value.

Put another way: the reasons for businesses to be more sustainable are as clear as the new Sprite bottles.

Learn more about how materials science and virtual twins are helping CPG companies deliver sustainable packaging solutions.

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