Sustainability: Coca-Cola's Recent Replacement of Shrink-wrapped Cans in Europe

An article recently written by Anne Marie Mohan of Packaging World (found here) examines Coca-Cola’s recent effort to become a more sustainable organization. Coca-Cola’s European Partners recently replaced their plastic shrink-wrap beverage packaging with paperboard multipacks. Like Coca-Cola, many CPG’s are taking a proactive approach to reduce their carbon footprint and are focusing on solutions that remove as much single use plastic from their packaging as possible.

What do organizations like Coca-Cola have to consider before they make a significant packaging change?

In the following interview, R.A Jones’ Beverage Portfolio Manager, Rich Clifton, uses Coca-Cola’s example to help us better understand the pros and cons of switching from a shrink-wrap packaging solution to a more sustainable paperboard option and what considerations need to made to the entire production line.

Q: Why is this article about Coca Cola replacing single use plastics relevant to other consumer goods manufacturers?

Rich: The article is highlighting a popular global trend to get away from single use plastics and moving towards environmentally friendly packaging solutions for consumer products. In this case, Coca Cola wanted to stop utilizing plastic shrink-wrap and move towards a more sustainable paperboard solution for its canned beverages. There are a considerable number of products you can find on store shelves today that are shrink wrapped together. All could potentially follow Coca-Cola’s example and switch to a paperboard solution instead.

Q: What are the monetary repercussions of moving from plastic shrink to paperboard wrap?

Rich: A paperboard solution in this situation is traditionally more expensive than the plastic shrink they decided to move away from. This added material cost usually results in consumers having to pay more for the product. I have read different articles referring to consumer research stating people are okay paying a little extra to buy a more sustainable package for some items. In Coca-Cola’s situation, I don’t think their consumers are going to balk at the slight price increase, knowing that the new packaging solution is more sustainable.

Q: What is one of the main benefits of switching from shrink-wrap packaging to paperboard outside of it being recyclable?

Rich: One main benefit is the amount and quality of uninterrupted surface available on a paperboard solution. This allows the manufacturer more options for brand messaging and graphical elements. The same can be done on shrink-wraps, but when the plastic shrinks down around the product, it may not transfer how it was expected to and be inconsistent from package to package, especially around the edges. It is also not a very elegant looking package. The paperboard solution is a much nicer option and you have a bigger billboard to showcase the product. You may be able to stack the product a little easier as well, but the shelf space is comparable for both packaging designs.

Q: What other changes need to be made upstream and downstream for a product to continue to run efficiently when moving from shrink to paperboard?

Rich: Typically, plastic shrink machines are going to be larger than a paperboard wrap machine. Shrink machines normally require a large heat tunnel to shrink the material down. Chances are you will save some floor space by eliminating that process. Since speeds are comparable with both packaging styles, changes are most likely unnecessary upstream of the new multipacking machine. Depending on the downstream process, switching from shrink to paperboard could require adding a tray packer to the line if one is not already in place. The current end of line stacking sequence and capacity of the palletizing equipment would determine if this additional equipment is necessary.

Q: Is Coca-Cola's switch something new for the beverage industry?

Rich: Paperboard packaging for beverages has been out for a long time. The interesting thing about this to me is it is now gaining popularity because of the sustainability aspect. Paperboard wrap is the cheapest option when moving away from plastic shrink-wrap. Moving to paperboard wrap from shrink is going to be the least expensive option for eliminating single use plastics. The most expensive option would be to use a fully enclosed packaging style. So, the paperboard wrap is the next step up. I believe Coca-Cola is also using another non-traditional style of paperboard packaging on their smaller beverage configurations. I was surprised they are doing both and not standardizing to one style.

Q: What technologies does RAJ have available for other manufacturers looking to switch to this new packaging process for cans/bottles?

Rich: R.A Jones has a line of packaging machines that can do partially enclosed beverage products. Our Wraptor beverage machine is a multi-style wrap around carton sleever. This is the same carton style that Coca Cola recently switched to in Europe. The Wraptor is fit for a company with smaller wrap configurations wanting to utilize fewer packaging materials and is an affordable option. For companies that need a more flexible machine that can accommodate a wide variety of packaging configurations and styles, R.A Jones also offers the Meridian XR. The Meridan XR can do partially and fully enclosed packaging configurations.

If your company is looking to eliminate single use plastic wrap from your packaging process or need help addressing other packaging related sustainability efforts, email R.A Jones at or click the button below and complete/submit your request.

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