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Less is more: What does Sprite going “naked” have to do with sustainability?

Written by Open Source Published on   2 mins read

At first glance, it might seem like a mere publicity stunt, yet the initiative has done a decent job highlighting the intricacies of recycling. Here’s the big picture.

This story originally appeared in Open Source, our weekly newsletter on emerging technology. To get stories like this in your inbox first, subscribe here.

This week’s story

If you haven’t caught wind of it yet, Sprite is going “naked” this year—albeit not in the conventional sense.

In the UK, the Coca-Cola Company, renowned for producing Sprite, is conducting a trial where labels will be removed from Sprite and Sprite Zero (the sugar-free variant) bottles.

During this experimental phase, bottles will sport an embossed logo on the front in lieu of traditional labels, with product and nutritional information laser-engraved on the back. To distinguish between Sprite and Sprite Zero, green and transparent caps will be used, respectively.

These bottles will be available in eight Tesco Express stores across the UK until March.

Why the buzz?

Given Coca-Cola’s history of controversy, some may perceive this move as yet another publicity stunt. However, the reality may not be so black and white. Hear us out.

While most bottle labels used in the present day are recyclable, simply making them recyclable isn’t necessarily a sustainable practice. A significant challenge in recycling lies in material separation. Before recycling can occur, recyclable materials must be separated from contaminants and non-recyclables.

Moreover, recyclables must be sorted into their respective material categories, such as metals, plastics, glass, and more, each with its own subcategories. Plastics, for instance, have at least seven classifications, as outlined by authorities in Singapore. Poor segregation of recyclables is identified as a key factor contributing to low recycling rates, as emphasized in a 2022 study by The Straits Times.

With this perspective in mind, eliminating labels—distinct from bottles despite their recyclability—could theoretically streamline the recycling process by obviating the need for their separation from bottles. This could also lead to a reduction in packaging material usage. Given the millions of soft drink bottles produced and sold annually, such efficiencies could yield significant environmental benefits.

The big picture

Although recycling may not be as prominent in discussions around climate action nowadays, its effectiveness can profoundly impact the outcomes of climate change mitigation initiatives. While recycling alone won’t suffice to meet countries’ climate-related goals, its importance lies in its ability to return valuable materials to the production cycle for reuse.

In the realm of clean and climate technology, this underscores the criticality of efficient recycling practices. As sustainability initiatives gain momentum, technology-driven solutions often involve repurposing materials recycled through the waste stream. From napkins at cafes to the clothes we wear, an increasing number of products incorporate recycled materials.

While recycling may not steal the spotlight, it plays a crucial supporting role in enabling the circular economy. Optimizing recycling operations ensures that we maximize the utility of materials that still possess reusable value.

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