Coca-Cola's plastic waste problem continues to fester

By Cameron Saunders
Despite commitments to tackle the issue, the American beverage juggernaut produced 9% more in plastic waste than it had the year before

Despite pledges that would promise otherwise, last year saw the Coca-Cola Company increase its use of plastic packaging by 9%. With the news of this growth, the Atlanta-based beverage company comfortably retains its place as the top plastic polluter on the planet. 

According to a report by ocean conservation group Oceana, Coca-Cola’s 9% increase amounted to 263 metric tonnes, meaning that annual plastic waste went from 2.96 million metric tonnes in 2020 to 2021’s 3.22 million metric tonnes. 

Oceana’s report also enumerated that Coca-Cola had failed to meet pledges that would see it increase the use of recycled plastics in packaging while decreasing its use of virgin plastics. 

“How can the company use an additional 500 million pounds of plastic in one year and at the same time consider itself to be addressing its plastic problem?” asked Oceana Director of Strategic Initiatives Dana Miller. “Bottles with recycled content will still be thrown away, sent to landfills, burned, or littered. Some of these will end up in our oceans.”

Seeking solutions to the problem

The report offered solutions to Coca-Cola’s persistent plastic problem. Reusable bottles – an area that the company already pledged to tackle – would be a good place to begin. A single reusable plastic bottle can be used 25 times, thus eliminating 24 one-time-use bottles. A single reusable glass bottle can be used up to 50 times. Were Coca-Cola to increase its use of reusable bottles in its coastal markets, that could mean a 22% reduction in marine plastic bottle pollution. 

But the structure of the company reduces the likelihood of effective change on this front. While the Coca-Cola head office has made commitments to reduce plastic consumption, the group’s largest bottlers – the globe-spanning arms of the company which actually determine packaging – have made no such commitments, with the exception of Coca-Cola Andina, one of the larger distribution companies in Latin America. 

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