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Encore: Sprite ditches its iconic green bottle, but critics say it's not enough

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For decades, Sprite has come in a green bottle. But this week, you'll begin to find the soda in a clear bottle. The Coca-Cola Company says that will make it easier to recycle. But environmental groups don't think the move goes far enough, as NPR's Becky Sullivan explains.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Ever since the Coca-Cola Company launched Sprite here in the U.S. back in the 1960s, it's been associated with that green bottle, which evokes the lime in its lemon and lime taste.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) More in Sprite. You've found lime, and you've found more in you.

SULLIVAN: The bottles were once glass. But by the early 1990s, the single-use green plastic bottle was ubiquitous for Sprite and a few other Coke products like Mello Yello and Fresca. Those bottles are made of a kind of plastic known as PET, which is lightweight, food-safe and can be recycled into carpets and clothes and more plastic bottles. Coke says it eventually wants to make all of its bottles entirely of this recycled plastic. But that kind of recycling is easiest to do when the plastic is clear. So the green Sprite bottle is no more.

SARAH DEARMAN: I would say, it's a great step. But we need to take a lot more steps to improve recycling and reduce the amount of material we use.

SULLIVAN: This is Sarah Dearman, chief innovation officer at the Recycling Partnership. Her group advocates for what's called a circular economy, one where we don't have to make any waste at all.

DEARMAN: Where we're using as little material from the Earth as possible. And then whatever we do use, we continue to use over and over and over.

SULLIVAN: Right now, the U.S. doesn't come very close to that. Americans recycle only about 30% of PET bottles, according to the EPA. The rest are thrown away. For the Coca-Cola Company, that is a lot of waste. Coke makes more than 100 billion plastic bottles across all its brands each year. So making the Sprite bottles clear and easier to recycle, Dearman says that's good. But it's not as far as the company could go.

DEARMAN: Wherever possible, we need to move to systems that are reusing packaging and that may be refilling it or providing things without packaging at all.

SULLIVAN: One thing Coke could do, she says, is use more refillable bottles, where you return the bottle to the store after you're done. And the used bottles are taken away to be refilled with more Coke, then sold again. The company says it wants at least a quarter of its sales globally to be in refillable containers by 2030. Becky Sullivan, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.