It’s been three weeks since Greenpeace launched our expose on the gigantic plastic footprint of the soft drinks industry - and their lacklustre action to protect our oceans from the blight of throwaway plastic bottles.
Our ‘Bottling It’ report called out the top six global soft drinks companies - Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Snapple, Nestle, Danone and Suntory - for selling millions of tonnes of throwaway plastic bottles every year, but failing to take responsibility for their impact on our oceans.
So how did these major companies respond to our demands for them to clean up their act?
They can’t deny the ocean plastic problem
Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans, and single-use plastic bottles are a major culprit.
With the media spotlight on the problems plastic bottles cause for marine life and healthy oceans, soft drinks giants have had to recognise that this is a big issue.
Nestle agreed with us that, “too much plastic is ending up in oceans and rivers”, while the British Soft Drinks Association told journalists that, “We should all be concerned about the problem of marine litter.”
But the industry continues to play down its responsibility
Concerned, maybe, but major soft drinks companies were quick to play down the contribution they make to the problem. Coca-Cola told Greenpeace that, “No single company – or sector for that matter– can tackle these problems on their own.”
Of course we can all play a role in ending the era of throwaway plastic. But just five of these top companies sell a combined total of 2 million tonnes of plastic bottles every year - that’s the same weight as over 10,000 blue whales.
This incredible figure doesn’t even include sales from the world’s biggest soft drinks company Coca-Cola, which refused to disclose the size of its plastic footprint to Greenpeace.
It’s therefore in these companies’ power to tackle the problem at source, by committing to phase out throwaway plastic bottles to stop their products from choking our oceans.
It’s all up to our customers
Yet the soft drinks industry is trying to deflect attention from the changes they must make to tackle the scale of the ocean plastics problem.
We knew from surveying the top brands that they were keen to shift the blame on to their customers to recycle, while ignoring their role in reducing single-use bottles and embracing reusable packaging.
Their responses to Greenpeace’s report have continued to sing from this same hymn sheet. Pepsi told the media the company will be “partnering to significantly increase packaging recovery and recycling rates", while Coca-Cola played up their past support for “recycling programmes, anti-litter campaigns and ocean clean-up.” We already know that our recycling and collection systems can’t keep up with the phenomenal growth rate of single-use plastic bottles - a trend that is set to continue until we force these companies to rethink.
Many of these top brands also reminded journalists that their bottles are all recyclable. The British Soft Drinks Association was even more upfront in blaming their customers: “it's pretty clear that some consumers, too many consumers, are chucking plastic bottles away and they shouldn't be. All PET bottles are 100% recyclable so there's absolutely no excuse for consumers to be doing that.” It’s true that plastic bottles are one of the easiest materials to recycle - so why do these 6 companies use less than 7% recycled content on average in the bottles they sell globally?
… and governments
Ironically, while the majority of these top companies have lobbied against policies to boost reuse and recycling rates, they’re now playing up the responsibility of governments.
Nestle emphasised that, “Having the right infrastructure and legislation in place is important.” Yet two-thirds of the soft drinks companies we surveyed have a global policy opposing the introduction of deposit return schemes. These schemes have boosted collection and recycling rates of drinks containers to over 80% across the world, reducing the risk of bottles ending up in the ocean.
Companies need to take responsibility, and take action
It’s clear that to protect the oceans we need to dramatically reduce our use of throwaway plastic packaging.
Greenpeace is calling on companies that produce and sell vast amounts of plastic packaging to accept their responsibility for ocean plastic pollution and commit to phase out the use of throwaway plastic packaging via the following steps:
- Reduce and reuse - Prioritise reusable packaging and developing delivery systems based on reuse.
- Recycle - Ensure all remaining packaging is made from 100% post consumer recycled content, as well as being recyclable or compostable.
- Disclose - The types and amount of plastic they use, reuse and recycle.
These are just some of the findings in the report. You can read the full report here