The soft drink giant’s head of sustainability, Bea Perez, told the BBC that consumers are fans of plastic-packaged drinks because they’re able to reseal their bubbles in lightweight packaging.
Doing away with plastic altogether for glass or aluminum would increase the business’s carbon footprint and weaken sales, she told the news outlet.
“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,” she said.
The company recognizes that packaging waste is a growing problem and that it has a responsibility to help solve the problem, according to a statement from the company.
“All packaging has a potential environmental impact, so it’s not as simple as saying one format is better than another,” according to company spokeswoman Anne Moore.
Those statements don’t quite make sense to environmental activists who want the super-polluting soft drink firm to do more than commit to making its packaging 100 percent recyclable by 2025 and to make bottles with an average of 50 percent recycled material by 2030.
The century-plus-old company had the highest amount of plastic found along coasts, shorelines and parks, according to the 2018 Break Free from Plastic study. PepsiCo, home of Coke’s rival, was right behind it, followed by Nestlé.
Coca-Cola is holding its crown as the highest plastic-producing company, Break Free From Plastic’s corporate campaign coordinator, Emma Priestland, told The Washington Post.
Companies such as Coca-Cola and others should be figuring out a way to fix the single-use plastic item economy they created as it benefits their bottom line, she said.
“We see big companies like Coke, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever talk about wanting to end plastic pollution, but the [solutions] they put forward rely on individual behavior change, and they rely on recycling,” she said.
A 2017 Sciences Advances study found that only 9 percent of the world’s 6,300 megatons of plastic in 2015 had actually been recycled while 79 percent ended up in a landfill or somewhere else in the environment. Researchers said 12 percent of the plastic was incinerated.
Americans recycled and composted about 35.2 percent of waste in 2017, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of all waste ended up in a landfill.
“We just can’t recycle the amount of plastic being produced,” Priestland said. “We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with quantity.”
Plastic can be recycled a limited number of times before it loses its quality when compared with the infinite recycling capabilities of glass and metal, which don’t lessen in value, National Geographic Society reported.
Recycling only delays the inevitable fate of plastic, Priestland said.
Coca-Cola’s claim that their customers can’t part with plastic bottles shows how out of touch the company is with environmental issues, according to a statement by Greenpeace USA plastics campaigner Kate Melges.
“The solution is for Coca-Cola and other consumer goods giants to fundamentally rethink how they’re bringing products to people, centering systems of reuse and package-free options,” she said. “As long as companies like Coke keep pushing the myth that their bottles are being turned into new bottles over and over again, we are never going to solve the plastic pollution crisis.”
The Coca-Cola Co is missing the point of what activists truly desire: no plastic waste, Priestland said.
Norway has found a way to recycle 97 percent of its plastic bottles through its bottle deposit program, where consumers are charged a fee of less than 50 cents.
Consumers have to return the bottles to designated stores with machines that can issue a coupon. They can also receive store and gas credit, according to Climate Action.
Plastic bottle producers also benefit from the program by having their environmental taxes waived if they collectively recycle more than 95 percent of bottles, according to the Guardian.
About 40 countries have similar programs, the BBC reported. Other countries such as Scotland and England have either made plans to implement similar systems or approved studies to have one in place, according to the outlet.
Government legislation is critical to reducing waste that ends up in the environment, but lawmakers must also partner with companies to create solutions, Priestland said.
“Breaking away from plastic is the only way that we are going to solve this problem,” Priestland said.