Sustainable Design: Coca Cola shakes 2021 with first paper bottle packaging.

Sustainable Design Packaging

Coca Cola revolutionizes the world of Sustainable Design and Packaging with the first paper bottle.

The bottle, designed in partnership between Coca Cola and Danish packaging design studio Paboco, is made from a thick paper made from 100% recycled plastics.

The new packaging is not 100% recyclable, since the lid is made of plastic. However, it is a great advance compared to the classic plastic bottles that we know.

Sustainable Design as an overcoming concept

Sustainable design is a central part of Universal Design, or Universal UX, as well as Quantum UX (QUX).

The packaging industry was always very resistant to Sustainable Design, and usually only responded with green alternatives when it was required by laws in different countries (of course, there are honorable exceptions and brands that have based their brand identity entirely on sustainable design, including its packaging).

In this case, the most ecological and sustainable design concept comes from the company itself and from the design studio, which makes the project more commendable.

Let us remember that Coca Cola was chosen as the most polluting brand of 2020 by Break Free From Plastic – an annual citizen action initiative that involves counting and documenting the brands on plastic waste found in communities across the globe collected 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries.

In this context, where big brands are incorporating more inclusive and sustainable designs (see Burger King’s new identity analysis) and where Coca Cola has been singled out as the “biggest plastic polluter of the year 2020”, the company’s reaction was almost expected.

Why a paper bottle packaging?

Sustainable Design Packaging: Paper Bottle
Sustainable Design Packaging: Paper Bottle

The Coca Cola and Paboco initiative is truly surprising, and deserves a much more in-depth analysis than the one that goes beyond product design or packaging.

“Our vision is to create a paper bottle than can be recycled like any other type of paper, and this prototype is the first step on the way to achieving this,” says Stijn Franssen, R&D packaging innovation manager, Coca-Cola EMEA. “A paper bottle opens up a whole new world of packaging possibilities, and we are convinced that paper packaging has a role to play in the future.”

https://www.coca-colacompany.com/news/coca-cola-unveils-paper-bottle-prototype

Coca Cola is also betting that this solution is a response to the need for circularity in packaging.

Michael Michelsen, business development manager at Paboco, said the project is still in its initial stages of development:

“We’re focused on several different development areas, which all tie back to our vision of creating a 100% recyclable and bio-based bottle,” he said. “This has potential to be a real breakthrough in circularity for the industry, unearthing huge potential in how packaging is designed, produced and used by consumers.”

“Changing an industry requires progress in increments and a push for sustainable change. The paper bottle concept remains a work in progress, and being able to truly evolve and scale to meet producer and consumer demand is one of the critical challenges to overcome. “

Michael Michelsen, Paboco

However, they are not all flowers. Many voices have been skeptical with this proposal, and believe that it may be an even bigger problem:

sustainable ux design: photo of production of paper bottles using plastic lids
Hybrid sustainability: the paper bottle uses plastic lids

Jo Barnard, founder and creative director of Morrama product design studio is one of those voices that show their skepticism:

“It’s somewhat misleading to call this a paper bottle, as it is quite clearly a hybrid of materials. If the Absolut bottle that was recently announced is anything to go by it is probably only 50-60 per cent paper. And whilst they state the plastic is 100 per cent recycled they have said nothing about the origin of the paper. “

Jo Barnard, Morrama Design Studio

Another sign of skepticism about the proposal comes from Generous Minds designer and Packadore Collective partner Ronald Lewerissa, who stated

(…) while replacing non-renewable materials like oil-based plastics with renewable materials like paper should reduce a company’s carbon footprint, the reality is “often much more complex”. These reports on innovation would be much more valuable if they were accompanied by Life Cycle Assessments [which] clarify where ‘waste’ is created, how much it is and what the carbon footprint of this waste is

Ronald Lewerissa, Packadore Packaging Designer

In addition, he adds on the issue of the circularity of packaging:

The solutions that facilitate the circular economy require a “systemic approach”, and “re-think, re-use, re-duce, re-cycle and re-new” thinking is an opportunity that many brands often overlook. Solutions might include a post-mix proposition, since soft drinks consist mainly of water or use a system of returnable glass bottles, for example.

We must find the combinations that will eventually make packaging 100 per cent circular

Ronald Lewerissa, Packadore Packaging Designer

The Paper Bottle Technology by Paboco

Paper bottle designtechnology by Paboco.
Paper bottle technology by Paboco. Credit: Paboco Project (click to enlarge)

Experimental research with branding

Coca Cola is not exactly a novice at launching new projects and innovating. Therefore, Coca Cola’s strategy is to test the new container with a sub-brand, in a limited market and with a small number of containers.

The brand chosen is AdeZ, a brand that curiously originated in our country (Argentina) and that The Coca Cola Company acquired in 1998. The original brand was AdeS (for Spanish “Agua de Soja”, which translates to “Soy Water”) and Coca Cola transformed it into its global brand for products based on plant extracts with less chemicals.

Sustainable Design: the AdeZ paper bottle prottoype
The AdeZ prototype

The chosen market is Hungary, and initially only 2000 packages will be launched in the capital of that country, Budapest.

This last detail is somewhat striking, since such a meager quantity probably causes a deviation in the study of the reception by consumers, since it is very possible that they consider it as a collectible item. Furthermore, in the absence of multiculturalism, it is impossible to know if the results limited to one city in one country would apply to another city in another country.

Notwithstanding the above, as we said before, Coca Cola is not new to this game and they clearly know more than we do, so we will wait to see the results.

Conclusion

So, is this a hit or a failure? We don’t know. The packaging isn’t 100% recyclable, which would be amazing.

Can we still call it sustainable design without a 100% sustainable design?

Yes, of course. It’s sustainable design, and a huge brand identity change (assuming it succeeds the experimental tests).

On the side of the CONs, we believe that part of the skepticism has some foundations.

Also, there is a little trick: they are not testing with a carbonated drink. Which means that there is no intention to use the packaging on the main product (Coca Cola). Only on non-carbonated beverages.

Obviously we can understand why, just imagine shaking a paper container with a carbonated drink and what would happen.

In addition, the announcement of The Coca Cola Company was made as a reference to the Coca Cola brand, when it is not related. Obviously a publicity stunt that is going to get more attention than AdeZ.

On the PROs side:

Sustainable Design. That means a lot.

Additional Resources for Sustainable Design, Sustainable UX and Packaging

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