Susan Maingi- Public Affairs and Communications Director, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa
Interview with Coca-Cola Communications Director on Role of Private Sector in Plastic Waste Management
In 2018, Coca-Cola launched the World Without Waste Initiative that sought to address the packaging waste problem. Coca-Cola established three fundamental goals; to make its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, use at least 50% recycled material by 2030, collect and recycle a bottle or a can for each they sell by 2030 and to work towards supporting a healthy, debris-free environment.
The Kenyan Wallstreet recently interviewed Susan Maingi, Public Affairs and Communications Director at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa to understand the status of Kenya’s recycling space, Coca-Cola’s efforts towards PET recycling and innovations towards reducing PET plastics in the value chain.
Where does Kenya stand in terms of recycling?
Kenya is progressively putting in place frameworks for spurring a circular economy for waste management that prioritizes recycling as a sustainable approach. We are engaging the Ministry of Environment towards enacting a compulsory Extended Producer Responsibility regulations. The regulations will compel all producers and users of any materials, including all types of packaging to take responsibility for the post-consumer cycle of their products including collection, sorting and recycling.
The Sustainable Waste Management Bill and policy that were approved by the National Development and Implementation Cabinet Committee (NDICC) in May 2020 will see significant shifts towards catalyzing the country’s transition to a circular economy and development of solid waste recycling in Kenya.
Through the Voluntary Extended Producer Responsibility (VPER) scheme implemented through the PET Recycling Company of Kenya (PETCO), we recycled over 7,800 tons of PET bottles in the year 2019. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic this year, we have received support from the government, and we are working with the wider private sector in recycling in Kenya to continue with the separation at source of waste, including PET bottles, at the household level.
Why is it essential that manufacturers engage in recycling in general and specifically PET?
Coca-Cola supports industry-led Extended Producer Responsibility in our region as we believe it is the most efficient tool to improve collection and recycling. We also believe that this will be good for our business and the communities where we operate. Because our business relies on glass and PET bottles and aluminium cans, we are doing our share by putting a sustainable packaging system in place for all types of packaging. Collecting and recycling used packaging is simply the right thing to do as a user of packaging.
We recognize we have a responsibility to help address the challenge of plastic waste, and we are open to considering all options – including well-designed container deposit systems (CDS) – for collecting bottles and cans. For a deposit scheme to be successful, we believe it must be managed by the industry and retailers, have the ability to scale nationally, and must have good governance and be consumer-focused. Not all countries have the right pre-conditions for a successful CDS. Additionally, we intend to implement refills of our PET bottles.
What has Coca-Cola done to reduce the amount of PET plastic in its value chain?
Like many companies that make products we all love, our packaging has contributed to the global packaging problem, and we are taking action to help solve this challenge. We’re bringing people together and investing in recycling infrastructure and our packaging to create a World Without Waste.
We do this through better design, supporting collection efforts and partnering with government and other organizations to promote a circular economy.
The journey we are on includes;
- Designing better packaging – We are focused on making our packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 and using at least 50% recycled material in our packaging by 2030. We’re reimagining our packaging to make it better for our planet and our business. We’re working to build better bottles because packaging shouldn’t harm our world. Simply put, if someone wants to recycle one of our packages, they should be able to.
- Collecting packaging waste – The Coca-Cola Company and all its bottling partners are leading the industry to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030. We’re working to bring people together to help us do this.
- Partnering with communities and industry – to clean up existing packaging, we’re bringing people together through programs like beach and river cleanups and other ongoing local activities. To encourage more people to recycle more often, we’re investing to help people understand what to recycle, how to recycle, and where to recycle. We are also working with local communities, NGOs, our competitors, and our critics to highlight this critical issue.
To support Coca-Cola Beverages Africa and The Coca-Cola Company in Kenya do the right thing with our packaging, we are partnering with a range of stakeholders including PETCO Kenya, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Tech4Trade, Qtron, Discover Brands, Retail Trade Association of Kenya (RETRAK), Nairobi Metropolitan Services, Kiambu County Government, and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
What are some of Coca-Cola’s efforts to drive behavioural change like promoting segregation at source, towards achieving a World Without Plastic?
In line with our commitment to the New Plastics Economy, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, the New Plastics Economy (NPE-K) and the Nyayo Embakasi Resident Association piloted the segregation of plastic at source at the Nyayo Housing Estate by supplying mesh bins to approximately 5,000 residents. Since the initiation of the pilot in May 2020, Nyayo Estate residents have segregated at source a cumulative of 653 kgs of PET.
How is Coca-Cola providing financial support to efforts of Voluntary Extended Producer Responsibility to support collection and recycling?
Coca-Cola Beverages Africa and The Coca-Cola Company are both members of PETCO Kenya which is financed by a voluntary EPR fee paid by converters and bottlers on PET resin purchased. PETCO also receives grants from brand owners and retailers. Through the fees and grants PETCO gets from its members and partners, PETCO subsidizes recyclers that purchase used PET bottles and in so doing increase not only the number of bottles collected but also the “Street Value” of used bottles. Indirectly this support has a significant impact on the earnings of informal collectors.
This means the bottle has a monetary value that waste collectors can earn a living from if they collect it and sell it on to recyclers.
How are you leveraging on partnerships to enhance recycling initiatives on the ground?
In the year 2019, we launched the “Recycling PET Bottles through COPA Coca-Cola Africa Championships. 10 African countries participated and through the Kenya Secondary Schools, “Recycle with COPA” Campaign we issued collection bins and bags in 2,000 schools. Four hundred schools participated in the collection of PET bottles, and a total of 92,057 kilograms or 4.5 million PET bottles were collected and recycled in Kenya. This is just one of the ways Coca-Cola is trying to reach its vision of a World Without Waste. By involving the youth, we are entrenching a culture of no littering so that the next generation can also care for our environment.
READ ALSO: Petco Calls for Extended Producer Responsibility Policy to Manage Plastic Waste
What is the current achievement of the 2025 goal to use 100% recyclable material?
The global aggregate figure is that 86% of all of Coca-Cola’s materials are recyclable as of 2019. In the South and Eastern Africa region where we fall, almost all products are considered recyclable because of the dominance of PET, aluminium cans and returnable glass. Conservatively we can claim 95% compliance.
How much of recycled PET (rPET) does Coca-Cola use vs total PET use in production?
We are currently working with Kenyan authorities to set regulations for the use of rPET at which time we will be able to introduce rPET more broadly. Globally the rPET number was 10% for 2019, and the forecast for 2020 was 14%, which was affected by COVID, but it has still increased.
What innovations can we expect from Coca-Cola that will encourage recycling and discourage the entry of PET in the Coca-Cola ecosystem?
Recently in South Africa, Coca-Cola transitioned its green Sprite PET bottle to a clear PET bottle. This is important as clear PET is more valuable to collectors than green or brown PET as recyclers can convert clear PET into more end products. The Coca-Cola system in South Africa also expanded the rollout of a 2 litre refillable PET bottle, which is not only affordable as there is a redeemable deposit attached to the package, but it’s good for the environment as well. The company is looking to roll out both of these initiatives across other parts of Africa.
PET is globally recognized as a safe, recyclable packaging material for food and non-food products. PET packaging is 100% recyclable into the same PET products (fibre and bottles).
What other initiatives should we expect soon that will promote a world without waste?
We are currently supporting several initiatives in Kenya to promote PET collection and recycling. This includes being members of PETCO Kenya through which we support and participate in various initiatives such as collection and consumer education awareness.
Coca-Cola is also in partnership with the UN Environment Program here in Kenya where we are both pursuing a bold vision of a national system which is based on an integrated PET waste management approach to create a circular economy model.
In addition, through The Coca-Cola Foundation and Benioff Ocean Initiative, we are supporting a social enterprise known as Chemolex here in Kenya to install plastic capture devices along Nairobi/Athi River to rid the river of plastic waste so that it doesn’t wash into the Indian Ocean.
Although PET is our current focus, we are fully committed to the effective management of all our packaging, including glass and aluminium.