When it comes to Coca-Cola and recycling, the soda giant says it wants to re-use as much as possible.

Millions of Coca-Cola's signature red, white and silver cans and bottles are sold every year to thirsty customers around the world – but where do they ultimately end up? Thanks to the beverage giant's comprehensive recycling initiative, a vast majority of them still have use long after the last drop of cola is gone.

The Coca-Cola Company – along with Coca-Cola Enterprises, the company's largest US bottler – has embarked upon a series of aggressive initiatives including the world's largest bottle-to-bottle recycling facility, a public education program and new plant-based bottles that are fully recyclable.

Target 100 Recycling Program

Ranked #1 in the food and beverage industry in Newsweek's Green Rankings, Coca-Cola is making good on its promise to maximize its use of renewable, reusable and recyclable resources, with the goal of recycling the equivalent of 100 percent of its product packaging by the year 2020.

The company set a few initial goals: avoid the use of 100,000 metric tons of packaging, recover or recycle more than 90 percent of materials at its production facilities and increase recycled content in plastic bottles by 10 percent – all by the year 2010.

So how are they doing? So far, Coca-Cola has made strong progress on these goals, as revealed in its 2009 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report, upon which much of this article is based.

World's Largest Bottle-to-Bottle Recycling Facility

In January 2009, Coca-Cola opened an enormous bottle-to-bottle recycling facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina that will produce about 100 million pounds of food-grade recycled PET plastic each year, about the equivalent of two billion 20-ounce Coca-Cola bottles.

"The opening of the Spartanburg plant, coupled with our investment in recycling businesses, programs and a new marketing effort, underscores our belief that our packaging has value and we want it back -- both for our own supply chain and to support the myriad of other uses for recycled aluminum and plastic,” said Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, in a press release.

The “Give it Back” Program

Gathering recyclables to transform into new products at its Spartanburg facility is only one part of Coca-Cola's recycling efforts. Convincing customers to recycle those bottles and cans in the first place is just as crucial to helping the company meet its Target 100 Recycling Program goals.

“That Coke in your hand right now belongs to you,” states a message on Coca-Cola's “Live Positively” website. “You bought it, you're drinking it, it's yours. The inside, that is. But the outside? We'd like that back.”

Coca-Cola has been active in ensuring that customers have plenty of chances to give back the bottles. The campaign has placed recycling bins at college campuses and sporting events around the country, including Major League Baseball games and NASCAR races.

Coca-Cola PlantBottle

Even with all of these successful recycling efforts, the plastic bottles used to package Coca-Cola products are still made from a non-renewable and less than eco-friendly material: petroleum. But in 2009, that changed as Coca-Cola introduced its “PlantBottle”, made with up to 30 percent plant-based materials.

For now, PlantBottles are made through a process that converts byproducts of the sugar-making process into a key component for PET plastic, but Coca-Cola plans to experiment with other plant-based materials as well.

Independent analyses of the bottle's life cycle have shown that the PlantBottle reduces carbon emissions by up to 25 percent, compared with petroleum-based PET.

And where do these bottles go once empty? They can be recycled, too. According to Coca-Cola, their PlantBottle can be processed through existing manufacturing and recycling facilities, unlike other plant-based plastics.

Go to the company's website to learn more about Coca-Cola and recycling.

Editor's note: Coca-Cola is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.