Beverage giant Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) no longer wants its packaging to be seen as waste, but rather as a valuable resource that can be reused in the future, CCSA senior technical operations manager and chairperson of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling company Petco Casper Durandt tells Engineering News.
“At CCSA, we strive to eliminate waste material, wasted energy and water losses over the life of our packaging by implementing four themes – reducing the amount of material used, redesigning our packaging to be more ecofriendly, recovering waste and litter from our packaging, as well as reusing our materials,” he says.
A prime example of the company’s efforts to become more environment friendly is its Valpré water bottling plant, in Lagerspoort, Heidelberg, which officially opened last year.
“After receiving approval from the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs through an environmental-impact assessment, [we were able] to start building the plant in 2009. “About 300 people, including people from the local community, were employed during its construction.
“The plant is built on an aquifer, as, by law, natural spring water must be bottled at the source. We were very fortunate to find a sustainable source of good spring water so close to our target market,” says Durandt.
He notes that Valpré was previously bottled at the Fricona Valley, in Paulpietersburg, KwaZulu-Natal – a five-hour drive from Gauteng, which is the company’s target market.
“The new plant is about half an hour out of Johannesburg so we are lowering our carbon footprint in terms of road transport,” he adds.
The Valpré plant is certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed), which is an internationally recognised certification programme and an accepted benchmark in designing, constructing and operating high-performance green buildings. The plant office complex received a Leed Gold environmental certificate – the first on the continent, Durandt notes.
The Valpré brand was also awarded a Gold Quality label by Monde Selection, a European institute for bottled water quality selections.
“Our construction plan and activities were aimed at ensuring that we took as little as possible from the environment. As part of this goal, we ordered all the material locally, so it would not have to be transported over long distances.
“The facility’s glass, carpets, roof insulation tiles and wood are all made with a percentage of recycled materials, which led to our receiving the Leed Gold environmental certificate,” says Durandt.
He adds that the filling plant has, so far, been a success and is well on track towards achieving its goal of sending zero waste to landfill.
“For similar operations in the beverage industry, companies are maintaining a recycling rate of about 75%. Currently, we recycle 94% of the Valpré plant’s waste and are constantly seeking new ways to improve this and achieve our goal of a 100% recycling rate,” he says.
Durandt notes that the plant has been well received by the community. He attributes this to the thorough public participation processes the company put in place while building the plant.
“We have dealt with all the interested and affected parties and have ensured that their needs are met,” he adds.
Besides making the Valpré plant as environment friendly as possible, the company also introduced a new type of packaging, the PlantBottle, for its Valpré range.
PlantBottle is the first fully recyclable PET plastic beverage bottle, which is made partially from plant matter, states CCSA.
“Traditional PET plastic is made using fossil fuels like petroleum but PlantBottle is made from a combination of traditional materials and up to 30% from plants.
“The end-product is still PET plastic, so the packaging delivers the same performance in terms of shelf life, recyclability, weight and appearance, but it reduces the potential carbon dioxide emissions from our PET plastic bottles and offsets the emissions from our fossil fuels usage,” says Durandt.
The PlantBottle technology was first launched in Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the US for brands like Bonaqua water, Coca-Cola, Sprite and Vitamin Water.
The plant material is acquired from sugar cane, which is grown in South America for industrial use.
Durandt notes that Coca-Cola is indirectly responsible for growing the sugar cane that it uses for its PlantBottle production, which is another way for the company to offset its carbon footprint.
“PlantBottle, like traditional PET bottles, can be recycled to make polyester clothing, packaging for food and nonfood products, filling for duvets and pillows, automotive carpets, seatbelts and bumpers, as well as roof insulation, among other products,” he says.
The company is also involved in many other waste management and recycling projects and initiatives.
In 2004, CCSA was a founding member of Petco, which promotes and improves the recycling of postconsumer PET products.
“All PET bottles are fully recyclable. “The bottles are washed and sorted before being reduced to flakes, which are then used to manufacture a number of everyday products. “This initiative has created income for more than 14 000 people in South Africa,” says Durandt.
The beverage manufacturer is also supporting Collect-A-Can initiatives, which has resulted in a recovery rate of more than 75% of beverage cans – one of the highest recovery rates in the world.
In partnership with the Department of Education, the company has also trained more than 697 teachers in the benefits of recycling.
With 16 plants in South Africa, Durandt notes that the company is constantly seeing innovations, especially in the reduction of energy and water use ratios.
CCSA is constantly monitoring its plants to assess and measure its sustainability.
“We use about 60 parameters to measure the success and sustainability of our plants, which include water use, the amount of solid waste, the health and safety of workers, as well as fleet safety.
“If anything looks out of the ordinary, we visit the plant and provide them with the right tools to deal with the specific problem,” Durandt says.
The company measures how many megajoules of energy are used to produce each litre of a beverage.
“If the number exceeds 0.35 MJ/ℓ, we offer the plant managers a variety of internationally proven energy management tools,” states Durandt.
He adds that CCSA is constantly improving its plants through products and activities, such as back-wash recovery systems, waterless lubrication of conveyors and steam condensate-recovery systems.
“Going forward, we are going to continue on our journey of reducing, reusing and recycling. We aim to use less packaging on all our products and reuse our returnable glass and PET containers.
“In the Western Cape, we also have a returnable PET bottle on the market.
“Where we cannot reduce or reuse, CCSA will recycle. “We are actively promoting the reuse of plastic bottles by developing a Coca-Cola- approved solution in South Africa, which will involve recycling them into plastic bottles again,” says Durandt.