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Tom Burke

Director of Public Affairs and Communications, Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland 

Waste has become one of the major challenges facing industry today. So how can we close the recycling loop to preserve the planet for generations to come? 

The importance of reducing plastic use and increasing recycling rates is a growing focus of government and businesses in Ireland, and in October 2020, the Irish government’s Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy committed to introducing a Deposit and Return Scheme for beverage packaging, like that used by other EU states. It will require consumers to pay a small returnable deposit on plastic bottles and cans, encouraging people to take them back to the shops.

Supporting waste reduction

A World Without Waste should be the goal of every socially responsible company and it is the vision and strategy Coca-Cola launched in 2018. Now, the Coca-Cola system on the island of Ireland– comprising of Coca-Cola HBC and Coca-Cola Ireland – is stepping up yet another gear: the system is giving its support to the upcoming Deposit Return Scheme as part of its commitment to reduce waste and realise its ambition to collect 100% of the bottles and cans it places on the market by 2030.

“Sustainability is very important to our business,” says Tom Burke, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at Coca-Cola HBC for Ireland and Northern Ireland. “We have operated in Ireland and Northern Ireland for over 80 years: we have a long heritage, and we are embedded in the community. We feel responsible to challenge the big issues of the day and the biggest of all is sustainability.”

Finding more sustainable solutions

Key to the ambition of the company is to design more sustainable packaging and reduce plastic: through investing in recycled plastic, sustainable cardboard solutions and overall ‘light-weighting’ of its packaging, the company has eliminated 5,000 tonnes of plastic from its supply chain annually since 2018.

Most notably, the company has achieved 46% recycled plastic integration across its plastic portfolio. It has reduced plastic in its bottles by 10% since 2018, which has accounted for 1,000 tonnes annually. Furthermore in 2020, it partnered with suppliers and designers to introduce a new cardboard packaging solution for multi-pack cans – removing a total of 585 tonnes of unnecessary plastic each year.

Today, seven out of 10 bottles are collected for recycling, which is good, but it still doesn’t meet the high bar we want to achieve.

But the big news now is the Deposit Return Scheme. “Today, seven out of 10 bottles are collected for recycling, which is good, but it still doesn’t meet the high bar we want to achieve,” says Burke. “The planned scheme will give consumers the opportunity to redeem their deposits. But even more importantly, the scheme provides an opportunity to create a true circular economy for beverage packaging on the island of Ireland, whereby we become self-sufficient in plastic and aluminium, to the extent that there is little requirement for us to use virgin plastic into the future.”

Finding solutions through partnerships

The company is forming partnerships with governments and NGOs in its drive to clean up the planet and it is also engaged in training, learning sessions and communication campaigns both internally and externally. Across the board companies are beginning to educate their staff in the importance of green issues, both as a corporate responsibility and as an issue employees can take on board personally, by taking small steps to make a difference in their own lives. The objective is a simple one, to generate awareness and understanding of why and how to adapt to protect the planet for future generations.

“We have been holding, what we call, ‘Ambassador’ training sessions, so that all our people can better understand our passion for sustainability and green issues,” says Burke. “It builds a sense of pride amongst all of us. And through learning sessions, we can show that although it’s a complex area, not everyone needs to be an expert in it, and we can all make a positive change in our own way.”

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