Coke Hopes No One Notices All The Plastic Bottles Floating In The Ocean

The company says it's committed to recycling, but a new Greenpeace report says that's not enough.

After a recent controversial Pepsi ad incited outrage on the Internet, an advocacy group is calling on soda drinkers to express the same level of concern over the questionable environmental practices of the soft drink company’s biggest competitor, Coca-Cola.

A new report from Greenpeace UK calls out Coke on a number of points, including its excessive reliance on single-use plastic ― which is damaging to oceans and marine life. Greenpeace also criticized Coke, the world’s largest soft drink company, for its reluctance to set a new industry standard for incorporating recycled plastic into its packaging.

Coke told The Huffington Post in a statement that it’s doing more to tackle the issue of marine litter. But Greenpeace is eager to see the global company take more tangible steps to significantly reduce the amount of plastics it introduces into the environment.

According to Greenpeace UK, Coca-Cola sells about 108 to 128 billion plastic bottles every year.
According to Greenpeace UK, Coca-Cola sells about 108 to 128 billion plastic bottles every year.
Eric Gaillard / Reuters

If current pollution rates remain unchanged, there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050. Coke won’t publicly release figures related to the amount of plastic bottles it produces, so Greenpeace conducted its own evaluation of the matter.

Greenpeace estimated that coke sells 108 to 128 billion plastic bottles every year, based on Coke’s annual sales figures of certain product lines and their proportion in the company’s overall packaging mix.

“Coca-Cola needs to accept responsibility for the damage its products are causing to the marine environment,” Greenpeace said in its report.

Coke said PET plastic ― the kind of plastic environmentalists want to see less of ― makes up 58 percent of its total packaging. While Coke’s bottles are recyclable, that’s not enough to prevent them from ending up in the oceans or to protect marine life from ingesting pieces of them.

Recyclable materials still find their way into bodies of water and landfills due to a lack of recycling infrastructure, consumers’ reluctance to recycle and other issues.

A Coke bottle floats in the Pacific Ocean.
A Coke bottle floats in the Pacific Ocean.
tirc83 via Getty Images

Greenpeace says it wants to see Coke lead the way in the soft drink industry by using recycled plastic in its bottle production. That would reduce the amount of new bottles being made, and cut back on wasted materials. Currently, newly manufactured plastic is cheap, while recyclable plastic, due to a lack of demand, is pricy ― which is why companies aren’t eager to use it.

April Crow, Coke’s senior director of environment and sustainability, told HuffPost last month that the beverage company is making efforts to ramp up its usage of recycled materials when it’s “economically and physically feasible.”

Recycled plastic has been approved for regulatory food-grade use in 44 countries of the more than 200 where Coke operates. In those places, the company buys almost 20 percent of the recycled plastic available.

Coke hasn’t set any global targets for boosting recycled content across its product lines. The company’s European arm, however, has vowed to source two-fifths of its plastic bottle material from recycled or renewable sources by 2020.

Greenpeace also takes issue with the fact that Coke has significantly scaled back on an important green practice. According to the report, the amount of refillable containers it uses dropped from 31 percent of its global product packaging to 25 percent from 2008 to 2015.

“Rather than reducing the number of single-use plastic bottles it produces, Coke is investing in even more throwaway plastic,” Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said in a statement. “We’d love for Coke to come clean on its plastic footprint and provide detailed breakdowns of what it produces annually.”

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