Brand Purpose Stop Motion Brand Strategy

Coke and Bill Nye champion recycling in new stop-motion animated short


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

April 5, 2022 | 7 min read

Coca-Cola has unveiled a new campaign to promote plastic recycling, made in partnership with Bill Nye and Fantastic Mr Fox animators Mackinnon & Saunders. The beverage behemoth’s North American director of sustainability Christine Yeager opens up about the company’s mission to design for circularity.


Coke has partnered with Bill Nye in a new animated short

While reports vary in their estimates, it’s believed that between 50% and 75% of Americans have access to some kind of curbside recycling. Even so, less than 30% of plastic bottles are recycled. The Coca-Cola Company wants to change that – which is why it has launched a new campaign designed to demystify and promote plastic bottle recycling, starring beloved science whiz and TV personality Bill Nye.

An extension of the beverage company’s World Without Waste initiative – which, launched in 2018, spells out a set of ambitious environmental goals – the new campaign is anchored in a short stop-motion animated film that sees a cartoony Nye explaining the process of recycling. He distills the complicated logistics into a digestible, straightforward telling of what happens – from the moment a plastic bottle is dropped into a recycling bin to its rebirth as shiny, new packaging for another product.

Animation of Bill Nye made of plastic

“This video is really about how to invite the consumer alongside [on this journey] and inspire the consumer to be a part of our [sustainability] goals,” says Christine Yeager, director of sustainability at The Coca-Cola Company North America. “We’re doing a lot to tackle the circular economy, but at the end of the day, we really need to demystify the collection and recycling process. So who better to partner with than Bill Nye? [He’s] everybody’s favorite big science [personality]. The thought is to take something about recycling – which can be complicated and boring – and make it approachable and inspiring, and make someone want to get out of their chair and recycle their plastic bottle.”

Bringing a vision to life

From creative concepting to its launch today, the project took about three months. Yeager says that the biggest challenge in bringing the campaign to life was nailing the messaging. “There are a lot of reports out there. There are a lot of acronyms. There’s a lot of complicated and sometimes mind-numbing stuff,” she says. “One of our biggest hurdles [was] changing the narrative about recycling to something that was simple and can be digested, understood and relatable.”

To help tackle that challenge and bring the message to life in an approachable, engaging way, Coca-Cola tapped M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, which spearheaded the creative concepting. Then Mackinnon & Saunders was brought on. The award-winning animators behind Fantastic Mr Fox, Corpse Bride, Bob the Builder and many other films and TV programs drew inspiration from Coca-Cola’s product packaging itself to develop its animations. In the film, for instance, Bill Nye’s animated character is made of plastic, the trees in the background of one scene are fashioned from recycled Sprite bottle labels and the recycling facility is constructed primarily of corrugated cardboard.

Conveyor belt animation

“Our production method of making the puppets and sets out of actual Coca-Cola products’ bottles, labels and totally recyclable materials was in the spirit of The Coca-Cola Company’s [World Without Waste] initiative,” says Glenn Holberton, a producer at Mackinnon & Saunders. “The whole team at Mackinnon & Saunders got behind the project and are proud to have been involved.”

Driving the circular economy

Under its World Without Waste program, the Coca-Cola Company has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 25% between 2015 and 2030. But before it can make the big strides, Yeager says, it’s important that the company tackles sustainability at the consumer level – it’s “about reducing the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand,” she says. The company plans to collect and recycle one bottle for every one it sells by 2030. By refurbishing its own product packaging more, it will be better-positioned to meet its other lofty goals, such as making all of its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 and using 50% recycled material in every bottle and can it produces by 2030.

Some of Coca-Cola’s brands are already using 100% recycled plastic (aside from product labels and bottle caps), including Coke, Diet Coke and Dasani, which, according to Yeager, made the company the first in the carbonated soft drinks category to make the switch. Still, she admits that there are a number of challenges in improving the circularity of product packaging. For starters, it can be difficult to source high-quality material with a high recycling efficiency – meaning the share of the material that can actually be repurposed. “There’s a little bit of a challenge with making sure that you get quality material, which is why we’re really focusing on collection because we need more quality material to come into the stream so that we can really use it,” she says.

Glass generally has a higher recycling efficiency than plastic and can also be recycled infinitely, in theory, whereas plastic can only be recycled so many times. When asked why the company doesn’t invest more in glass packaging, Yeager says that glass comes with a number of other challenges: it’s heavier, its availability is generally lower and transport costs tend to be high – factors that make it a difficult investment both financially and environmentally. The company has a number of glass products on the market and is trialing a glass returnables program in Texas, but Yeager says that at this point in time, switching the whole portfolio over to glass “would make our science-based target commitments significantly more difficult to achieve.” She says that every material has its trade-offs and “at the end of the day, if we can make more bottles become more bottles, then we feel like that’s a more approachable solution.”

Outside of its invigorated recycling push, Coca-Cola is working behind the scenes with policymakers as well as a handful of nonprofit organizations – including Closed Loop Partners – to fund a more circular economy. “Recycling is something that we can all do to help,” says Yeager, “but it’s not the only thing that needs to get done.”

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Coca-Cola: World Without Waste by Mackinnon & Saunders

By Coca-Cola

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