Coca-Cola Trials Debut Paper Bottle

Last year in Brussels, Coca-Cola unveiled its first paper bottle prototype. The project is now ready to move on to the next phase: critical consumer testing. It will help understand how the product performs and how people respond to it.

The trial will take place in Hungary, where – through the online grocery retailer Kifli.hu – 2,000 consumers will receive Coca-Cola’s plant-based drink ‘AdeZ’ in the new innovative packaging format. This is set to happen in the second quarter of this year.

“The trial we are announcing today is a milestone for us in our quest to develop a paper bottle,” said Daniela Zahariea, director of technical supply chain and innovation for Coca-Cola Europe.

It all started with Coca-Cola’s long term bid to eliminate plastic from its packaging entirely, part of the company’s ambitious goal to achieve a vision of a “World Without Waste”. The aim is to collect a bottle or can that it sells by 2030, reaching 100% recyclability.

Coca-Cola was recently ranked the world’s number one plastic polluter by the charity ‘Break Free From Plastic’ in its annual survey, after its drink bottles were the most commonly found item left on beaches, rivers, parks, and other litter sites in the countries that were part of the survey.

Scientists at Coca-Cola’s Brussels Research and Development laboratories partnered with The Paper Bottle Company (Paboco), a Danish startup developing the technology for the sustainable packaging format.

The current prototype is made of a paper shell realised with sustainably-sourced wood. Although still containing a thin plastic lining and cap (made from 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate or PET), the ultimate goal is to create a plastic-free bottle that can be recycled as paper.

The structure needs to resist liquids, CO2, and oxygen, and to be suitable for carbonated and still drinks, beauty products, and more. While ensuring that no fibres shed into the liquid, the product has to be mouldable too, in order to create shapes and sizes for different brands. 

Paboco’s commercial manager, Michael Michelsen, said: “We have a good understanding already of what the bottle will go through as we put it into the real world. But there is a certain point where you just can’t design yourself out of this at a desk, right?

“You need to get into that real-world and you need to get that real-world feedback”.

Paboco seems up to the challenge. Besides Coca-Cola, the Danish company can count on the support of a number of industry giants such as spirit producer Absolut, brewer Carlsberg, and beauty products company L’Oréal.

As ‘too little too late’ as this can sound, the news that such big market-leading companies are moving in a more sustainable direction still represents a sign that something is changing for the better – regardless of what the authentic reasons behind it may be.

“There’s always competition on sustainability credentials, but this is a healthy thing,” said Fin Slater, digital editor at Packaging Europe magazine. 

“Each sustainable innovation not only pushes the boundaries in relation to that particular packaging material, but increases the pressure on other materials to drive up recyclability, and drive down carbon footprints.”