As CCSA president, Bill Egbe, stated at the official opening: ‘When we set out in 2009 to build this state-of-the art plant, we did so with the goal of ensuring that it reinforced all that The Coca-Cola Company and Valpré Spring Water stand for … unwavering quality and commitment to the sustainability of our environment and communities.’
Let’s go back to the beginning. With increasing demand for bottled water, in 2007 CCSA initiated its search for a second site to complement the first Valpré plant located in the vicinity of Paulpietersberg, KZN. Some 50 sites were surveyed by hydrogeologists and, much due diligence later, the 484 ha Heidelberg property and aquifer was selected as the most appropriate, for the brilliant quality of the water and its match to that of Valpré KZN, for the long-term sustainability of the resource and for its proximity to the key Gauteng market.
After receiving approval from the Department of Water & Environment through its Environmental Impact Assessment, CCSA broke ground on site in 2009.
The plant currently has a capacity to fill four million litres/month on its solo PET line alone, a figure that could easily be quadrupled such is the flow from the aquifer. The water licence also determines that no other activity can take place on the property and that what was farmland will be restored to natural Highveld.
Setting new green standards
CCSA was determined never to be accused of green-washing when it came to its claims and standards for the Valpré brand and the new plant.
To this end it’s working towards Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification – an internationally-recognised programme that’s the accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. It will be the only factory in Africa to hold the certificate (the US embassy in Pretoria is the only other LEED-certified building in Africa). No detail goes unmanaged, for example:
• Use of local and recycled materials wherever possible, ie office furniture and carpets and outdoor fittings
• Office energy management system, ie lights and air conditioning, automatically turn off when offices are
• Solar electricity for the admin block, and solar heating for all geysers
• Sunlight optimisation, building insulation and window glazing to minimise lighting and air conditioning
• Rainwater harvesting
• The use of electrochemically-activated water (plant supplied by Radical Waters) as a green technology
for CIP applications, using no chemicals
• 100% treatment of effluent and reuse of grey water
• A target of ‘zero to landfill’ waste
• Landscaping and use of indigenous plants that require little irrigation
‘LEED is a very stringent certification – there’s no question of our going this route just to tout a plaque or flag,’ comments Mike Jacobs, QA manager and my tour guide of the plant. ‘It’s a committed endeavour, audited annually, that doesn’t allow short cuts. Nor do we wish to take any – this is the right thing to do for a sustainable future and business and we’re very proud to be the pioneers in South Africa.’
Introducing PlantBottle to SA
Perhaps the most notable green aspect of the project is that from September 15, Valpré hits the shelves in Coca-Cola’s innovative PlantBottle, the first-ever recyclable PET beverage bottle made from up to 30% plant polymer (derived from Brazilian sugarcane ethanol) and 100% recyclable. South Africa is the tenth market in the world to launch the bottle and the first in Africa.
It has the same performance as other lightweight PET bottles, with no difference in shelf life, weight, chemical composition or appearance.
PlantBottle has a lighter footprint on the environment thanks to its reduced dependence on non-renewables such as petroleum. By the end of 2010 (in two years since its introduction in the US), more than 2,5-billion PlantBottle packages had been produced, eliminating the equivalent of approximately 60 000 barrels of oil from Coke’s plastic bottles. Coca-Cola reports it will more than double its use of PlantBottle in 2011.
In line with the global trend to lightweighting and materials savings on beverage bottles, the PlantBottle, with preforms produced in South Africa by Boxmore, conforms to the new shorter neck-finish global standard, the PCO 1881 ISBT (3,8g/17mm), and is capped with the two-piece ‘Super Shorty’ closure for soft-drink PET bottles, supplied by Nampak Closures. It weighs 2,4g versus 3,2g for the previous closure.
That CCSA has chosen Valpré as its launch platform for PlantBottle is perfectly apt, as Linda Appie, senior brand manager, water, expands: ‘It’s a natural fit – there’s no other brand in Coca-Cola South Africa’s portfolio of 30 still and sparkling beverages better suited to represent sustainability and quality than Valpré.’
Valpré, in fact, can be regarded as arguably the most highly-respected water brand in the world: in May 2011 it was awarded the ‘Gold Quality’ label by Monde Selection, an International Institute for Quality Selections in Belgium. ‘This is the first time a water brand (premium or mainstream) has received this prestigious award, demonstrating the brand’s high quality standards,’ says Linda.
CCSA is rolling out a big promotional and educational campaign for the launch of PlantBottle, including point-of-sale displays, on-pack messages and logos, and consumers can access loads of web-based communications including the PlantBottle section of Coke’s website, www.thecoca-colacompany.com/PlantBottle.
‘We believe PlantBottle will go a long way in strengthening Valpré’s and our other brands’ connections to consumers. People have responded positively to the package in each market where it has been introduced. It’s very in tune with the enviro zeitgeist of the day,’ notes Linda.
Last word to South African National Bottled Water Association executive director, Charlotte Metcalf, who says both the plant and new bottle significantly advance the bottling industry’s ‘green’ strategy: ‘With the new Heidelberg plant, Valpré will reduce its carbon footprint, lower its water usage ratio, adopt energy- efficient production technologies, and boost its solid waste recovery — all while providing a sustainable product packaged in a bottle that takes a giant step towards using renewable resources.’
Blown bottles are fed directly into the 108-head filler via starwheels under hygienic conditions. After filling and capping, the bottle fill height and closure are inspected on a Krones Checkmat. An Accutable between the filler and the Contiroll reel-fed labeller allows for ample buffering, if required. From the labeller to end-of-line, a variety of packaging options are available with the Krones Variopac and Wrapapac, machines that handle cartons, trays, pads and shrink film.
Finally, a Robobox and Modupal palletising system work in sync – with the Robobox turning and positioning the packs to form the precise layer pattern, ready for transfer to the pallet.
In line with CCSA’s desire for a chemical-free plant with no toxicological and ecological risks, the use of electrochemically-activated water for CIP is complemented by a dry lubrication system on the conveyors. This is a silicon base which is sprayed on to the conveyors but is drip-free. A silicon-free solution is also being developed. The upshot is a 84% to 94% saving in water usage on the line.
A vehicle this sleek needs but a handful of drivers, requiring only five floor operators, a team of female artisans who have been trained for purpose. This reinforces Coca-Cola’s commitment to positively impact the communities in which it operates. In 2010, Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, announced the company’s ‘5 BY 20’ pledge which aims to empower five million women by 2020 through the Coca-Cola system, and this is one of several programmes in South Africa to meet this challenge.
A ‘Rolls Royce’ packaging operation
CCSA chose to partner with Krones for Valpré Heidelberg, sparing no expense in the capital investment to create a world-class plant, kitted out with the latest technology. Environmental and energy-saving concepts, minimal human intervention, as well as future growth, were key considerations in the design. The line is designed for flexibility – handling six size variants in PET and two in glass (using a lower volume Kosme filler).
The giant packaging hall, currently standing half occupied in anticipation of future expansion, comprises separated areas for high-care blowing and filling, and for downstream labelling and end-of-line packaging.
The Krones Contiform 24 PET blow moulder and filler are housed in an ISO Class 7 clean room. The preforms are transported from a hopper to the blow moulder via a Krones Inspection system that ejects any damaged units, and are then air rinsed prior to entering the 24-cavity blow moulder. Using lightweight moulds which equate to far less machine stress, it runs at same speed as the filler – ie 40 000 bottles/hour for 500ml units. The preforms are handled ‘right side up’ through the heating tunnel and into the blowing carousel which means no additional parts are required to invert them into position. Heated high-pressure air used in the blowing process is recycled back into the system.
The PET filler is directly blocked to the blow moulder which eliminates any airveyors and the necessity to rinse the bottle before filling – thus ensuring additional energy and rinse media savings.
The volumetric PET filler is specially designed to handle still and sparkling water – for example, non-contact filling with still water as a precaution for safety/hygiene purposes. Specially adapted flow meters control the filling volume due to the low conductivity of the product. The bottles are handled by the neck and therefore no change parts for different sized bottle are necessary.