Coca-Cola Trials Paper Bottles in Hungary

The goal is to avoid plastic and be easily recyclable.

Coca Cola paper bottle
Coca Cola's new paper bottle will trial in Hungary this summer.

Coca Cola

Coca-Cola is far from being a role model for sustainable design, but it is doing something interesting in Europe right now. A partnership with the Paper Bottle Company (Paboco) of Denmark has resulted in a unique, mostly-paper bottle that will be able to hold carbonated beverages without exploding from the pressure or losing fizziness. 

The goal is to create a fully-recyclable, plastic-free bottle that won't let gas escape, nor affect the flavor of the drink in any way, and after seven years of development, a version is ready for commercial trial. Customers in Hungary will receive their online grocery orders of AdeZ, a dairy-free fruit smoothie, in these paper bottles, and both Coca-Cola and Paboco will be watching closely to see what they think. 

Michael Michelson is the commercial manager at Paboco. He told BBC that the bottles are made from a single, seamless piece of paper fiber to avoid having points of weakness. The 3D-molded paper cannot come into direct contact with liquid, so there is a thin bio-based liner on the inside of the bottle to keep it waterproof. 

The Paboco website explains that this barrier "withstands both water vapour and oxygen transmission. Use of materials that encourage recycling and in the future designed to degrade harmlessly if accidentally put in nature." It's not clear if the liner is removable in order to recycle the paper bottle. It sounds similar to coffee cup design, which is precisely what makes them so difficult to recycle. Treehugger reached out for more information, but has not heard back yet.

The cap is still plastic, but it's made from 100% recycled content (rPET). The reason for this is that it allows the paper bottle to be filled on existing production lines, but eventually these will be changed to accommodate an all-paper closure. The label is printed directly onto the paper with water-based ink to reduce the amount of material used. 

Coca-Cola isn't the only company experimenting with paper bottles. Vodka company Absolut is set to launch a trial in Sweden and UK of 2,000 raspberry-vodka drinks in paper bottles, and beer company Carlsberg is working on something similar, too.

Here at Treehugger, we are obviously proponents of tackling single-use packaging and replacing it with reusable, refillable models, even over biodegradable ones – a return to how Coca-Cola once operated. But we are also realists who understand that there are times when you may need a drink and don't have a reusable cup or access to a refill station. That's when it makes sense to use packaging that doesn't last indefinitely and that will recycle easily. Paper is recycled at a much higher rate than plastic and can be remade into a higher quality product when processed, so it's preferable to plastic.

It remains to be seen whether the paper bottle works as effectively as plastic, if it can be scaled up, and if customers are willing to make the switch. But it's a step in the right direction, away from our plastic dependency and toward material that's better suited to a temporary use.