In late January, Coca-Cola announced a new trial to remove the labels from its Sprite and Sprite Zero bottles in a bid to cut down on material use and remove the need to separate different packaging components during the recycling process. To get an overview of the project and learn more about Coca-Cola’s objectives and views on the potential pitfalls, we spoke with Dusan Stojankic, VP Franchise Operations, GB&I at Coca-Cola Great Britain.
First things first, I think it’d be helpful to set the scene: Could you introduce this project to us and talk a bit about how it will work in practice?
We’ve launched a temporary UK trial to strip off the labels from our on-the-go 500ml Sprite bottles to help simplify the recycling process.
This trial will see the labels stripped off our on-the-go 500ml Sprite and Sprite Zero bottles at eight Tesco Express Stores in Brighton and Hove, Bristol, London, and Manchester from January to March 2024.
By removing the labels, we remove the need to separate them from the bottles during the recycling process. While existing labels are fully recyclable, stripping them off reduces our use of packaging materials.
These new trial bottles will feature an embossed logo on the front of the pack and laser-engraved product information on the back.
As is the case with all our bottles, they come in clear, 100% recycled PET bottle with an attached cap.
From Coca-Cola’s point-of-view, what is motivating this move, and could you situate this project within the context of the company’s wider sustainability strategy?
Although the plastic labels that are around our current bottles are recyclable, by removing the labels, we remove the need to separate them from the bottles during the recycling process – a simpler design we want to trial with consumers.
This temporary UK trial is just one of the ways we’re looking to help simplify the recycling process, and support a circular system where more old bottles are turned into new ones.
Through Sprite, we’ve tested and launched new ways to evolve our bottle design while ensuring that more of our plastic can be recycled. Recent changes include reducing the use of coloured rPET and introducing attached caps to our bottles. These are all important ways that we aim to minimise the impact of our packaging on the environment.
And what do you hope/expect the outcome of the initiative will be?
The process of making any change to our products is complex and requires significant testing. By running this temporary UK trial on our on-the-go 500ml bottles, we want to assess the impact of the new bottle, and see what our retailers and consumers think. We of course hope it will be successful, but we need the learnings from the trial to better understand if - and how - it can be scaled.
Placing label-less bottles in stores for the first time will help us understand how people react to the new design, and whether any further changes are needed to help people find and identify their favourite Sprite products without the usual labels.
How are you ensuring that the details on the bottle remain sufficiently clear and comply with regulations concerning label readability?
It’s also incredibly important to us that all our consumers are able to confidently choose the product that’s right for them.
We acknowledge that the labels contain valuable information for consumers, but with the help of technology, we can now trail other ways to share this information while reducing our use of packaging materials.
In place of the label, the new trial bottles feature an embossed logo on the front of the pack and laser-engraved product information on the back. We’ve also cleverly laser etched all the valuable information you’d expect to see on a label on to the back of the bottle.
And while the traffic light labels aren’t visible on the bottles in this trial, all information is available through a QR code that will be laser engraved on the bottle.
Are you worried about potential branding impacts now that the labels, which contain the vast majority of the colour/branding opportunities, are disappearing? And when assessing the performance of the project, how will you balance branding vs sustainability?
While much of the branding is visible on the label, we’ve made sure that the bottles in this trail are still easy to identify.
The two variants of drinks in this trial, Sprite and Sprite Zero, will still be easily distinguished by their caps, which will come in green for Sprite and transparent for Sprite Zero. The trial on-the-go 500ml label-less bottles can also be easily spotted on shelves by their distinctive Heritage Sprite bottle design, with full body dimples and a texturised logo on the neck.
All the valuable information people would expect to see on the label is cleverly etched on the back of the bottle, which doesn’t interfere with the recycling process.
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