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Coca-Cola India PET Pilot to Recycle 5 Million Bottles

Brand owner collaborates with India’s leading retail group for a recycling program that rewards consumers for returning empty PET bottles.

Kate Bertrand Connolly

January 23, 2024

3 Min Read
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At a Glance

  • PET Recycling Partnership: Coca-Cola and Reliance collaborate on PET bottle recycling incentives
  • Circular PET Economy: Coca-Cola's initiatives drive circularity in PET packaging value chain
  • Circular Plastics Case Competition: Brand’s 2024 $10,000 awards competition is for rPET innovation

Coca-Cola India is collaborating with India’s leading retail group, Reliance Retail, on a PET recycling program that gives consumers incentives for returning empty PET bottles. The partners aim to collect 5 million PET bottles annually during the program’s pilot phase.

The program started at 36 Reliance Retail stores, including Smart Bazaar and Sahakari Bhandar locations in Mumbai and Delhi, and will expand to 200 stores across India by 2025. In return for depositing their used PET bottles in collection bins and reverse vending machines (RVMs) at the stores, consumers will receive discounts on Coca-Cola India products.

India’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) will collect and recycle the post-consumer PET bottles. RIL, one of India’s largest PET-bottle recyclers, currently recycles 2 billion PET bottles annually and plans to scale up to 5 billion.

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The new pilot program is called “Bhool Na Jana, Plastic Bottle Lautana” or, in English, “Don't forget to return the plastic bottle.”

Indian families typically save and clean empty milk pouches and plastic bottles, as well as newspapers, and “hand them over to raddiwalas, who in today’s world are the unique front-end army of recyclers,” said Damodar Mall, CEO, Grocery Retail, Reliance Retail, in comments about the launch.

“Smart Bazaar, as a modern retailer, continues to encourage this habit, with modern methods. Our pilot with our store shoppers, with the support of Coca-Cola India and Reliance Industries, is one such attempt we plan to pursue with our wide network of stores,” Mall added.

Leveraging the PET value chain.

The new PET recycling program builds on another Coca-Cola India PET initiative and supports the company’s global sustainable-packaging strategy.

In 2023, Coca-Cola India launched its Return and Recycle initiative, together with Zepto, to collect empty PET bottles of any brand directly from consumers. Zepto is a 10-minute grocery delivery business based in India. Return and Recycle’s goal is to create a circular PET economy by connecting all parts of the recycling value chain.

Through Return and Recycle, 50,000 households in India have contributed post-consumer PET waste, and RVMs have been installed in 75 cities in the country; 1 tonne/1.102311 tons of PET waste have been collected.

The Zepto partnership and Coca-Cola India’s project with Reliance Retail both support the beverage company’s World Without Waste sustainable-packaging strategy, launched in 2018.

The goals of World Without Waste are to make 100% of Coca-Cola’s packaging recyclable by 2025, use 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030, and fill at least 25% of beverages into refillable/returnable packaging by 2030.

Second annual circular plastics competition: rPET.

In related PET-sustainability news, Coca-Cola is accepting submissions to the second Circular Plastics Case Competition. The company is working on the competition, once again, with industrial-equipment supplier Hillenbrand and nonprofit Net Impact.

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The case competition fosters innovation geared to circularity and boosting supplies of post-consumer recycled (PCR) material. This year’s competition focuses on recycled polyethylene (rPET), which is widely used for consumer goods packaging in product categories such as food, beverages, cosmetics, and household products.

Submissions are due in March 2024, and finalists will deliver virtual presentations about their projects at NPE2024 in May. The competition’s first-place prize is $10,000, second place is $2,500, and third place is $1,000.

Hillenbrand and Coca-Cola will guide the competition’s goals and topic, and Net Impact will deploy its global network of social impact and sustainability leaders to address the challenge of boosting the supply of rPET.

The inaugural case competition in 2023 drew more than 150 participants from 13 countries. That year, the top prize went to Ashaya, an India-based start-up that turns post-consumer multilayer plastic — typically found in snack food packaging — into new products. Sunglasses were the first of Ashaya’s upcycled products.

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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