Coca-Cola Says People Still Want Plastic Bottles But We Want A Healthy Planet To Live On More
Yesterday, January 21, Coca-Cola refused to get rid of its single-use plastic bottles, claiming people ‘still want them’.
The firm’s Senior Vice President and head of sustainability, Bea Perez, said people like buying Coca-Cola in plastic bottles because they are lightweight and resealable. She also said ditching plastic runs the risk of alienating customers and affecting sales.
In simple terms, Coca-Cola – one of the biggest producers of plastic waste – won’t get rid of its plastic bottles because doing so wouldn’t be beneficial to the firm. Read: it’s protecting itself rather than protecting the environment.
Perez’s comments came after Coca-Cola was found to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic waste by the charity Break Free From Plastic last year.
The organisation conducted 484 beach clean-ups in more than 50 countries in September, finding 11,732 pieces of plastic collected from Coca-Cola products alone – an amount greater than the next top three global polluters combined.
This is the second year running the charity found Coca-Cola to be the top global plastic polluter, with Emma Priestland, Corporate Coordinator for Break Free From Plastic, describing it as ‘frankly appalling’ that the manufacturer is ‘so behind the times’.
She told UNILAD:
We know that people around the world are waking up to the horrific environmental damage caused by single use plastic. Coke should be leading the way by reinventing how they deliver their drinks to their customers, by switching to reusable, refillable bottles for the sake of the planet.
Rather than providing real solutions to this very real problem though, Perez instead continued to offer false solutions – promising to use at least 50% recycled material in Coca-Cola’s packaging by 2030, and partnering with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world to help improve collection.
She told the BBC:
Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers. So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us.
The problem is that nothing is changing, though. Nothing significant, anyway. The drinks giant produces approximately three million tonnes of plastic packaging a year, the equivalent of 200,000 bottles a minute.
Regardless of how much of that gets recycled, or how much of Coca-Cola’s packaging is made with recycled material, it’s not enough to make a difference.
Because the more plastic the corporation produces, the more plastic pollutes the environment, and the more plastic gets pumped into our oceans. That’s just fact.
And as long as it’s allowed to continue, plastic pollution will continue to have a devastating impact on our environment, marine life and wildlife. In fact, Sir David Attenborough last year called plastic pollution an ‘unfolding catastrophe’‘ in a report led by charity Tearfund.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Perez said the firm recognised it now had to be ‘part of the solution’, pledging to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2030. But this isn’t enough, not by a long way. How can the corporation truly be ‘part of the solution’ if it’s refusing to ditch single-use plastic?
Put simply: it can’t. Sure, recycling plastic bottles is better than not doing so and sure, pledging to make its packaging more recyclable is a step in the right direction – but at this moment in time, a step in the right direction just isn’t cutting it.
Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition, agrees, telling UNILAD:
Plastic is a gross polluter and contributes to climate change at every stage from extraction to use and disposal. With plastic production slated to double in the next twenty years and recycling rates for plastic plummeting, there’s no way Coca-Cola can recycle their way out of this problem.
It’s time for Coca-Cola to be a leader instead of blaming their plastic problem on consumers. People don’t want plastic bottles; they want a future for their children.
It’s true. Coca-Cola might say people ‘want’ plastic bottles, but I can assure you we want a safe and healthy planet to live on more.
We already know we’re in the middle of a climate emergency; last year, 11,000 scientists gathered from around the world to declare exactly this, with the effects of climate change felt in Australia and many more countries over the course of the year.
We also know single-use plastics are only exacerbating the problem; one report by the Center for International Environmental Law found they are a serious hazard to climate change and called for production to be urgently halted.
So then how can one of the largest manufacturers in the world eschew responsibility in this way? How can it continue to pretend as though it’s not a major player in this game? And how are we, as individuals, expected to cut our own plastic use when large companies clearly can’t be bothered to?
Without dedicating itself to cutting down its plastic use – even gradually over time – Coca-Cola cannot say it’s part of the solution. It’s anything but. By continuing to refuse to acknowledge that, it’s setting a dangerous precedent for everybody else.
Because why would smaller companies, or the average Joe like you and me, feel the need to cut their own plastic use, or the number of plastic bottles they buy, when Coca-Cola continues to churn out hundreds of thousands a minute? It’s easy to think: ‘Well, what’s even the point?’
There is a point though, with Greenpeace USA Plastics Campaigner Kate Melges telling UNILAD Coca-Cola is simply ‘out of touch with the environmental crises communities around the world are facing’.
It is mighty convenient for the world’s worst plastic polluter following global clean-ups to insist that people want their plastic around.
The solution is not to simply swap one throwaway material for another or continue to fall back on recycling. The solution is for Coca-Cola and other consumer goods giants to fundamentally re-think how they’re bringing products to people, centering systems of reuse and package-free options.
We cannot afford the levels of inaction that Coke has shown thus far. Soon, the company will realise just how sick and tired people are of its plastic addiction.
As long as manufacturers continue to put themselves first, prioritising business over the state of the environment, we can’t expect to see a change. Not a notable one anyway.
Recycling is clearly not the solution here; getting rid of its single-use plastic is.
UNILAD has reached out to Coca-Cola for comment.
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CreditsBreak Free From Plastic and 3 others
Break Free From Plastic
Plastic Pollution Coalition
Center for International Environmental Law