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Coca-Cola piloting new water recovery technology

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The giant beverage company figures it could save close to 26.4 billion gallons of water annually across its global bottling operations.

For obvious reasons, The Coca-Cola Co. is investing plenty of innovation cycles in coming up with approaches to use less water to create beverages. Less water clearly equals more efficient. No water equals no fizzy soda water, which the company kind of needs for revenue reasons.

The latest demonstration of Coca-Cola's work in this area is a new water recovery system that will transform wastewater into water that meets or exceeds requirements for drinking. That water can be used for non-product processes in its plants, such as for cleaning and bottle washing.

The company has developed and tested a commercial scale system that it believes will improve water use efficiency by up to 35 percent at its bottling facilities.

The technology being used by Coca-Cola to treat water discharged during its beverage processing uses biological treatment methods including a membrane bioreactor, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ozonation and ultraviolet disinfection.

Hmmm. This sounds similar to the AquaSel technology being championed by General Electric.

"Because responsible water management is at the heart of a sustainable future, overcoming today's water challenges calls for extraordinary action," said Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer of Coca-Cola. "We've assumed an active role in advancing innovation that conserves and sustainably manages water resources for the benefit of all -- communities nature and business."

The company believes the technology could help save up to 26.4 billion gallons of water annually if it is used in its bottling plants worldwide, so it is currently reviewing internal plans to roll it out to its bottling partners starting in 2013 and beyond.

Continuing with the water flow a moment, Coca-Cola recently announced that it will give $3.5 million to the United States Water Partnership to support clean water initiatives in Africa.

This isn't the first time Coca-Cola has invested in high-profile innovation for sustainability that could have a serious impact on its bottom line. The company has pioneered new packaging called PlantBottle that replaces up to 30 percent of the PET in bottles with plant-based materials. The goal is to extend PlantBottle so that 100 percent of the materials are plant-based, and the company hopes to use it across its supply chain by 2020.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure