Sprite is giving up its signature green bottle – but environmentalists say it’s not enough

On the left, a classic green Sprite bottle. On the right, the new transparent bottle.

Alex Tay/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Coca-Cola company

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Alex Tay/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Coca-Cola company

On the left, a classic green Sprite bottle. On the right, the new transparent bottle.

Alex Tay/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; Coca-Cola company

For over 60 years, Sprite soft drink has been packaged in signature green bottles. Now, that era is over.

Starting August 1, Coca-Cola, which produces Sprite, will bottle the lemon-lime drink in clear plastic bottles in North America, the company announced Wednesday.

By filling the sprite with clear plastic, Coca-Cola says, the bottles can be recycled more times. The company says one goal is to increase the supply of recycled plastic that the company can then use to make bottles in the future.

“Removing colors from bottles improves the quality of recycled materials,” Julian Ochoa, CEO of R3CYCLE, a plastics recycling company working with Coca-Cola, said in a statement.

Sprite’s green plastic bottles were already recyclable. But Coca-Cola said colored plastic bottles are usually separated from clear plastic bottles during the recycling process in order to keep the recycled plastic from discoloring. Green Sprite bottles have often been recycled into things like clothing and carpet, which are difficult to recycle again.

Environmental groups say single-use plastic is the problem

Environmental organizations say the problem with Sprite bottles isn’t the color, but the material: single-use plastic.

“Coca-Cola’s recent announcement is yet another scandalous attempt to wash the environment from one of the world’s worst plastic pollutants,” said Kate Mills, who leads the Greenpeace Plastics Project. “We are in the midst of a huge plastic pollution crisis and we can’t recycle to get out of it.”

Coca-Cola produces more than 100 billion plastic bottles each year, according to data it provided in 2019 to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, making it one of the largest producers of single-use plastic waste in the world.

Soft drink bottles are usually made of a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. PET is lightweight, food-safe, and recyclable — but like other plastics, PET can take hundreds of years to degrade.

In the United States, only about 29% of PET plastic is recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Bottles with recycled content will continue to be discarded, sent to landfills, or disposed of,” said Matt Littlejohn of Oceana, an ocean conservation organization.

Concerns about single-use plastics have led to calls for food and beverage companies to increase sustainability by avoiding creating new plastics where possible.

Coca-Cola has previously pledged to promote sustainability

Coca-Cola has previously made a variety of sustainability pledges, including promises to increase the portion of packaging that can be recycled — currently 90%, with a goal of 100% by 2025 — and to increase the percentage of recycled materials used in manufacturing. Its packaging – currently 23%, with a target of 50% by 2030.

In recent years, Coca-Cola has experimented with bottles made entirely of recyclable PET — also called rPET — along with using plant-based materials.

“Demand for rPET currently exceeds supply, so the first step to scaling 100% rPET use across our portfolio is to build a sustainable pipeline of the highest quality materials,” said Chris Vallett, Senior Vice President, Technical Innovation and Stewardship, Coca-Cola.

Clear Sprite bottles were first introduced last year in a smaller 13.2-ounce bottle, in a few areas across the United States.

Other Coca-Cola drinks that come in green plastic packaging — including Fresca, Seagram’s, and Mello Yello — will also transfer to clean plastic bottles.

In the statement, the company also announced that its bottled water brand, Dasani, will be bottled entirely from recycled plastic. Coca-Cola estimates that it will save more than 20 million pounds of newly created plastic compared to 2019 — a saving that represents a small portion of the company’s total plastic production.

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and Oceana have called on the company to move from single-use plastic bottles to refillable bottles.

Coca-Cola says its goal is to sell at least 25% of its beverages globally in reusable or returnable packaging by 2030. This includes beverages sold in soda fountains and in glass bottles. The company says that refillable and returnable packaging made up 16% of sales in 2020.

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