A step toward saving the environment is always a good idea, especially when it comes to multi-billion dollar companies. Coca-Cola is to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50% amid pressure from environmentalists over runaway use of the containers.
The world’s biggest drinks brand says it will hit its new UK recycling target – up from a previous goal of 40% – by 2020.
The company described the proposal as ambitious but environmentalists said they did not go far enough.
John Sauven, head of Greenpeace UK, said smaller drinks companies were already going much further. “Other companies are already at 50% and are aiming to be at 100% by 2020. Coca Cola is huge in scale and this is not an ambitious target.”
Coca-Cola’s UK and Europe arm currently has a target to increase the amount of recycled plastic or RPET in its bottles to 40% by 2020.
It has already performed a U-turn over bottle deposit schemes following pressure from Greenpeace. In evidence to MPs before the UK election was called, the company said it now supported a deposit scheme. It had previously said it was opposed to such an idea.
Figures obtained by the Guardian this month revealed that across the globe one million plastic bottles are bought by consumers every minute – roughly 20,000 a second.
The number will jump another 20% by 2021, with annual sales rising to more than half a trillion a year, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.
More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold across the world in 2016, up from about 300bn a decade ago. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3bn, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.
Coca-Cola said it would hit its 50% target by investing millions of pounds in “Europe’s largest and most advanced plastic bottle recycling facility” based in Lincolnshire.
Jon Woods, general manager of Coca Cola Britain said today’s announcement was the start of an effort to ensure all of its packaging was “recovered and recycled.”
“Doubling the amount of recycled material in all of our plastic bottles is a significant investment and sends a clear signal we want to play a positive role in supporting the circular economy here in Great Britain.”
Sources within the recycling industry said Coca-Cola was competing with other brands to be first to announce that it was making dramatic changes to its packaging to use more recycled plastic and recycle more of its bottles.
One source said: “This is because of a combination of consumer pressure and pressure from environmental groups. There is a feeling that no one wants to be the brand which is littering beaches with plastic and there is something of a race among brands to get their green message out first.”
Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “People expect companies like Coca-Cola to make their bottles out of 100% recycled content, not virgin plastic. But the bigger question is how Coca-Cola will reduce the sheer scale of plastic it’s pumping out.
“Producing over 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year, Coke’s plastic footprint has been stomped into our planet’s environment. What’s their plan to stop all that plastic ending up in our oceans, streets and beaches?”
There has been growing concern about the impact of plastics pollution in oceans around the world. Last month scientists found nearly 18 tonnes of plastic on one of the world’s most remote islands, an uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific.
Globally Coca-Cola has repeatedly refused to release data to Greenpeace about its global plastic usage. The environmental campaign group estimates that Coca-Cola produces more than 100bn plastic bottles every year – or 3,400 a second.
The top six drinks companies in the world use a combined average of just 6.6% of recycled plastic (PET) in their products, according to Greenpeace. A third have no targets to increase their use of recycled plastic and none are aiming to use 100% across their global production.
Plastic drinking bottles could be made out of 100% recycled plastic, known as RPET – and campaigners are pressing big drinks companies to radically increase the amount of recycled plastic in their bottles. But brands have been hostile to using more RPET for cosmetic reasons. But the recycling source told the Guardian: “Consumer pressure and the image of plastic littering our beaches is making them think again.”