The South Pole plastics team has been working closely with AB InBev's Corona brand on its plastic stewardship strategy. As a brand closely associated with the beach, Corona places high importance on the issue of plastic waste. South Pole worked with Corona to assess its plastic footprint as well as the effectiveness of the recycling and collection programmes supported by AB InBev.
The result of this work is a third-party review of the significant reduction in waste generation and an even more significant effort to recover plastic from the environment – an amount totalling more than that generated by Corona. The assessment provides Corona with the evidence to support its claim of a "Net Zero Plastic Footprint", analogous to the "Net Zero Plastic Leakage" of the 3RI Corporate Guidelines for Plastic Stewardship.
The South Pole plastics team had a conversation with Corona's Global VP, Felipe Ambra, about the history of Corona's plastics effort and where they expect the programme to go in the future. The Q&A below summarises that conversation and will give you a good idea of how Corona, with South Pole's help, achieved success and continues to improve its performance.
Why are plastics a priority for Corona?
As a brand born at the beach and deeply connected with nature, Corona is passionate about protecting our world for generations to come. In fact, our commitment to tackling plastic pollution – from our oceans to our natural environments – is years in the making. It's an expression of our heritage. We believe it is our duty to do our part to protect our oceans through plastic reduction and recovery.
What started with beach and ocean clean-ups has quickly evolved and extended to plastics reduction across our supply chain. We are proud of our steadfast work in this arena and will continue to focus on it to erect necessary change.
What should the public know about plastics that they may not already know?
It's important for us all to better understand our own plastic footprint, so we can take steps to reduce it. Every year, up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean. To put this into perspective, people in the United Kingdom use an average of 101 kg of plastic every year. This usage is taking a direct toll on the environment and needs to change.
As a brand, we've taken an extensive look at our operations to understand how much plastic we use so that we too can help to reduce our plastic output and reclaim more plastic than we use. We've also created Plastic Reality, an augmented reality experience that allows the public to see their annual plastic footprint in their own home.
Seeing your full year's worth of plastic in your living room is truly eye-opening, and we believe this tool has the power to inspire people to reduce their personal plastic usage and minimise their subsequent impact on the environment.
You've achieved a net-zero plastic footprint globally. What exactly does that mean? How are you collaborating with South Pole to achieve this?
We're very proud to achieve a net-zero plastic footprint globally. Through our partnerships, Corona has successfully been able to recover more plastic from the environment (through recycling and plastic cleanup) than the brand releases into the world. Yet, since there are still technical limitations to reducing or eliminating plastic completely, we at Corona also invest in recycling centers and collection campaigns to recover a greater amount of plastic than we use.
South Pole has been a critical partner in these efforts, reviewing our plastic stewardship strategy, by measuring both our plastic footprint and the impact of our recycling and collection efforts. South Pole also completed an extensive assessment of our global operations against the 3RI Corporate Plastic Stewardship Guidelines. The assessment measured Corona's remaining plastic usage across the brand's distribution logistics processes.
Corona also worked with South Pole to follow the Verra Plastic Waste Reduction Standard and calculate the impact of Corona's plastic mitigation activities, including a major investment in Mexico Recicla where the vast majority of Corona's footprint is located.
Thanks to these mitigation efforts, Corona now recovers more plastic than it releases into the world.
Is plastic an issue that you see your sector talking about and moving to resolve? Or is Corona a standalone in this?
The elimination of plastic from our oceans is an issue we all face but Corona strives to be a leader in creating change – not just for beer brands, but for the entire corporate sector.
Corona's net zero plastic achievement is a great step on our brand's long-term journey to make 100% of our packaging returnable or produced from majority recycled content. Our ambition is to eliminate plastic for our oceans altogether. But to make an even greater impact, Corona can't do it alone. That's why we also launched our Corona Plastic-Free Challenge, in partnership with the 100+ Accelerator, to support entrepreneurs from across the globe in offering new ideas or technologies that can become new standards for reducing or eliminating plastic from the consumer goods industry. We might not have all the answers, but we will do the right thing to reach our goal.
Can you talk us through the innovative ways that you're removing plastics from Corona's supply chain?
Since 2018, Corona has been assessing our plastic usage in depth and has put in place strategies to help reduce it. For example, we made substantial capex investments across our Mexico breweries to eliminate hi-cone plastic rings for 100% of our export products and replaced them with carton wrapping. The machinery we used came all the way from Europe and had to be installed and qualified in our Mexico breweries. We are now ramping up production to phase out all export plastic volume before the end of the year.
For a very small portion of our bottles, we use Pressure Sensitive Labels (plastic). This provides our logistics and planning teams in Mexico with the flexibility they need to produce bottles for different locations in the world without having to overstock printed bottles. While this is a rather complex process, we believe it's important and are currently phasing out the remaining stock of printed labels and replacing them with screen printed bottles, with no plastics.
While we are proud of these achievements, we want to do more; and that's why we partnered with South Pole to formalise and re-run our plastic audit, analysing Corona against the 3RI Corporate Plastic Stewardship Guidelines, to help us look into the future and account for the additional impact we can have.
What have you done in terms of redesigning your product and operations to reduce plastic use?
Most of our packaging can be recycled, and we are working very hard to evolve our supply chain and operations to transition to product materials that can either be recycled or eliminated.
A great example is Corona's new circular packaging for six-packs. Through the use of robust technology, Corona has been able to reimagine barley and turn it into a sustainable packaging solution, bringing Corona's deep commitment to preserving the natural world to life .
The process involves combining the surplus barley straw with 100% recycled wood fibres to create a paper packaging that is as strong and durable as a regular six-pack, but better for the planet – it's able to carry six cold beer bottles from the store fridge to the beach while using far fewer resources along the way. The benefits are substantial, as this new material eliminates the need to source virgin raw material, uses 90% less water*, less energy, and behaves just like regular paper when recycled. This technology took over three years to develop and perfect, led by AB InBev's Global Innovation and Technology Center (GITEC), in partnership with Sustainable Fiber Technologies.
The new barley packs are currently being piloted in Colombia, where we are hoping to gather important feedback from consumers and store owners, which will inform our global roll out strategy.
Our internal teams are so excited about this initiative that more markets have proactively decided to pilot it as well. Argentina and Canada are two examples where barley packs will be introduced very soon.
Can you describe the innovative plastic recycling programme you're working on? Why is this important? What problem does it solve?
At Corona, we are focused on preserving and embracing our natural world for generations to come, but in order to do that, we have to solve the problem of plastic in the world's oceans. After analysing our own operations, we have made great strides in reducing our plastic imprint – like increasing the capacity of our Mexico Recicla recycling facility – to ensure we can capture and recycle more plastic at the source, before it has a chance to hit our oceans. We have implemented a process for collecting, sorting and recycling it into new products, which creates a circular economy.
And our efforts are paying off! South Pole's evaluation shows that Corona's investment in Mexico Recicla has increased the facility's processing capacity to 5,000 tonnes of plastic annually.
Are the actions that you're taking applicable to the industry as a whole?
At Corona, we know that we can't do this alone and reducing our plastic footprint comes down to two things that are relevant across the beverage industry. First, we must understand our plastic footprint as an industry and invest in innovation to completely eliminate it. Second, we need to implement plastic mitigation efforts to reclaim more plastic than we put into the world.
Corona may be the first global beverage brand to achieve a net zero plastic footprint globally, but we hope that our approach will inspire others to join us.
Now that Corona has put the effort in to develop these solutions, can other companies easily adopt them?
We hope to drive long-term change by inspiring the industry to act. In principle, many of the steps we have taken are simple, but require significant investment and commitment, and we hope other brands will follow our model.
Through our work with like-minded partners in the 100+ Accelerator programme, which t has brought together AB InBev, The Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, we can help to fund and pilot sustainable innovation in supply chains, while offering passionate entrepreneurs the resources they need to solve pressing global challenges and bring their solutions to market faster. This partnership provides us with an opportunity to come together to accelerate progress for a more sustainable world, even as each company continues to strive for its independent sustainability goals.
What's next for you with regard to plastics and other materials?
While we can't reveal all our future plans now, becoming the first global beverage brand with a net-zero plastic footprint is part of Corona's broader ambition to help protect the world's oceans and beaches from plastic pollution. To date, Corona has conducted more than 1,400 clean-ups globally, engaged more than 68,000 volunteers, and collected plastic waste from more than 44 million square metres of beach. Corona is also partnering with Ocean Generation to educate and inspire people to have a more sustainable relationship with the ocean. These are all building blocks for a broader goal, which we are committed to working towards in the years to come.
Learn more about our plastics solutions here.