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HomeNewsCoca-Cola's Major PET Bottle Lightweighting Initiative Impacts Supply Chain

Coca-Cola's Major PET Bottle Lightweighting Initiative Impacts Supply Chain


The Coca-Cola Company is revamping its line of small PET bottles to make them lighter and, in some instances, to update their shape. This effort, part of a broader lightweighting project, is set to roll out immediately and continue into 2024. It will involve reducing the weight of 12 oz, 16.9 oz, and 20 oz bottles from 21 grams to 18.5 grams across all of Coca-Cola's sparkling brands, as well as Minute Maid Refreshments and Minute Maid Aguas Frescas in the U.S. and Canada.


Moreover, Coca-Cola's 20-oz bottles made from 100% recycled PET (excluding caps and labels) will also transition to this lighter design. This marks a significant change, as there hasn't been a major overhaul like this in quite a while. The last major update for the 20-oz bottle, a staple in the market since 2006, was nearly two decades ago.


Alejandro Santamaria, the Senior Director of Global Packaging Development & Innovation at The Coca-Cola Company, shared insights with Packaging World about the initiative. According to Santamaria, the original contour shape of the bottles, which was replaced in the early 2000s by a new grip design, is making a comeback in North America with an optimized and modern twist. The company has been working on reducing the weight of their bottles from 27 grams to 21 grams over the past decade. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in modeling technology, they've managed to reduce the bottle weight further to 18.5 grams. This advancement is a big leap towards minimizing environmental impact without compromising on the packaging's strength, functionality, or the beverages' quality and taste.


This initiative is part of Coca-Cola's "World Without Waste" goals, which aim to cut down PET usage by three million metric tons by 2025. By lightening the weight of their bottles, Coca-Cola is not only advancing towards this ambitious target but also working to lessen its overall carbon footprint.


The journey to make Coca-Cola's PET bottles lighter began with rallying the company's bottling partners around the vision. Recognizing that some existing bottle designs couldn't easily be made lighter, a complete redesign was essential to break the 21-gram weight barrier. To achieve this, Coca-Cola initiated a specialized research lab to create and evaluate the new bottles. As the project expanded and progressed, it welcomed the expertise of design teams, suppliers, and others to turn the concept into reality.


Santamaria explains that, although reducing material costs offers some financial benefits, the primary goal behind this endeavor is to enhance the efficiency of their packaging. Winning over the bottling partners and dedicating time to product research and development was crucial. Santamaria emphasized the importance of timing in aligning all these elements perfectly across the supply chain.


The need for a design overhaul wasn't immediate, given the gradual improvements made over the last ten years that didn't necessitate significant infrastructural changes. However, reaching the threshold of 21 grams signaled it was time for a more substantial leap in lightweighting efforts. This task was daunting, but Coca-Cola's strong network of bottlers played a crucial role in realizing these ambitions.


To bring the new, lighter bottle designs into production, changes were indeed necessary. Equipment used by suppliers to create preforms had to be adapted for the new 18.5-gram design. Bottlers also stepped up, investing in the capital required for new molds and modifying their blow-molding equipment to accommodate these changes. Despite these adjustments, the impact on the downstream packaging process was minimal, with only slight modifications needed for filling, capping, labeling, and packing machines to handle the subtly different new bottle designs.


Kicking off the initiative to make its PET bottles lighter, Coca-Cola first needed to inspire enthusiasm among its network of bottlers. Recognizing that some existing bottle designs wouldn't work for the goal of reducing weight to below 21 grams, a complete redesign was essential. The journey began with a specialized research lab dedicated to developing and testing the new bottles. As the project grew, a collaborative effort with a design team, suppliers, and others brought the vision to life.


Santamaria explains that the timing of this project is strategic, aimed at enhancing packaging efficiency while also realizing some cost savings from reduced material use. Convincing bottling partners and investing time in product development were crucial steps in this process, ensuring the initiative was launched at an opportune moment. A significant design refresh was necessary as the project reached a point where further lightweighting couldn't progress without it. Despite the challenges, Coca-Cola's strong bottler system played a pivotal role in achieving these new lightweighting goals.


To accommodate the new 18.5-gram bottle design, suppliers' preform equipment and bottlers' blow-molding machinery were retooled, with bottlers also investing in new molds. However, changes to the downstream packaging process were minimal, requiring only slight adjustments to filling, capping, labeling, and packing equipment to accommodate the slightly different dimensions of the new bottles.


Observing the lightweighting trend in the bottled water industry, which led to less durable PET bottles, Coca-Cola is confident its approach won't compromise the integrity of its sparkling beverage bottles. The company's selective lightweighting ensures the bottles maintain their rigidity and performance through the supply chain. While Coca-Cola and Sprite products will see no changes in label size or placement, other sparkling beverages in the portfolio will transition to smaller labels, maintaining uniformity across all brands. This streamlined labeling approach enhances efficiency without altering cap or closure designs.


Central to Coca-Cola's success in this endeavor was the careful balance of design features, ensuring the lighter bottles remained functional and aesthetically pleasing. By reinforcing the bottles' structure, the new design prevents CO2 loss, preserving the drink's fizziness—a crucial aspect of the Coca-Cola experience. This strategic balance between design and functionality marks a significant step forward in the company's packaging innovation.


Extensive consumer research and data gathering were essential components of Coca-Cola's strategy to ensure the public welcomed the redesigned bottles. According to Santamaria, feedback from consumers has been extremely positive about the changes.


This shift in packaging is anticipated to significantly reduce the company's plastic usage—by an amount equal to almost 800 million bottles by 2025 compared to 2024. Furthermore, this initiative is expected to lower carbon emissions in 2025 to the equivalent of removing over 17,000 cars from the road for a year. Coca-Cola is committed to addressing the challenge of plastic waste globally and recognizes that lightweighting the bottles is only a part of the solution.


In addition to lightweighting, Coca-Cola introduced a 100% rPET initiative in February, transitioning all its 20-oz bottles in the U.S. to be made entirely from recycled plastic, aside from the caps and labels, by the end of 2024. This rollout is being implemented by all Coca-Cola bottling partners in the U.S. and Canada, with the transition taking place at various stages throughout the year. The Coca-Cola system in the U.S. comprises 64 independent bottlers, including major ones like Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Liberty Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola Consolidated Inc., with Coke Canada Bottling Limited serving as the sole bottler in Canada.


Santamaria notes the cooperative spirit of these bottling partners, praising their willingness to support the company's goals to minimize the use of new plastic and promote a circular economy. The success of this initiative is attributed to the collective effort and dedication of Coca-Cola's partners in this significant environmental endeavor.

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