Last March, Greenpeace conducted a survey of the plastic footprints and policies of the top six global soft drinks brands: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Suntory, Danone, Dr. Pepper Snapple and Nestlé. Despite plastic bottles forming a major source of ocean plastic pollution, the survey results reveal a woeful lack of action by the soft drinks industry to prevent their plastic bottles ending up in our oceans, while the world’s biggest soft drinks company, Coca-Cola, refused to disclose how much plastic it produces, therefore forcing the charity to resort in hypothetical calculations.
The charity looked at Coca-Cola’s annual sales figures of certain product lines and the proportion that they have represented in the company’s overall packaging mix since 2012. Using this method, Greenpeace concluded that Coca-Cola sells in the region of 108 to 128 billion plastic bottles each year. According to the research, the world’s biggest soft drinks company’s single-use plastic bottles now account for almost 60 percent of the company’s global packaging – a number that has increased by 12 percent from 2008 to 2015.
Their actual findings are also breath-taking. Of the six companies surveyed, five sell a combined total of over two million tons of plastic bottles each year – the same weight as over 10,000 blue whales. When combined with plastic packaging used by the companies, the total figure rises to a startling 3.6 million tons a year (still excluding Coca-Cola). The six companies use a combined average of just 6.6% recycled plastic in their bottles, despite producing fully recyclable bottles and placing the responsibility on their customers to recycle. None of the companies surveyed have commitments, targets or timelines to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bottles they use.
A third of the companies surveyed currently have no global targets to increase their use of recycled content in their plastic bottles, and none are aiming for 100% recycled content in an ambitious timeframe. Four out of the top six companies surveyed do not consider the impact of plastic bottles on oceans in their product design and development processes. Over the last ten years, the soft drinks industry has been consistently decreasing their use of refillable bottles, switching to yet more single-use plastic.
Two-thirds of the soft drinks companies have a global policy opposing the introduction of deposit return schemes on drinks containers, which have boosted recycling and collection rates to over 80% across the world, and more than 98% in Germany. The deposit-return scheme (DRS) is designed to encourage consumers to return their drinks bottles by adding a small refundable charge for sale. Coca-Cola was among these two-thirds opposed to the idea up until recently, arguing that it could negatively impact its business. However, in a major u-turn for the company, Coca-Cola UK announced it will support the DRS scheme in Scotland last March.
The announcement was welcomed by Greenpeace. Louise Edge, the senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, told the Independent: “Deposit schemes, which have growing support amongst the public, politicians, and industry, can play a key role in reducing the amount of plastic which ends up in our oceans and in landfills.
“Companies like Coca-Cola must have ambitious plans for 100 percent recycled content and move away from the era of single-use, disposable, plastic. Only by these companies taking responsibility for the end life of the bottles they sell, will we close the loop on the 16 million plastic bottles which are dumped every day in the UK, and go on to pollute our beaches, land, and sea.”