Last February, Coca-Cola, certainly one of the world’s largest plastic polluters, announced a recent global goal. It said that 25 percent of all of its products can be sold in reusable and refillable packaging by 2030.
That commitment, if met, could keep billions of single-use plastic bottles from polluting the world’s waterways and oceans while also reducing the corporate’s carbon footprint. At a time when Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the upcoming COP27 climate change conference has drawn criticism from environmental activists, working towards making this vital promise a reality could help the corporate show that it means what it says.
Unfortunately, a key ingredient needed for Coca-Cola to maintain its vow is missing to date: a parallel commitment from the corporate’s big bottlers to also raise their refillable sales to higher levels. Without that, there’s good reason to consider that the beverage giant’s pledge will not be met and will only be one other broken promise.
Single-use plastic bottles, which the beverage industry refers to as “one-ways,” are designed for use once after which are thrown into recycling bins, garbage cans or the environment. Refillable bottles are designed to be reused. Consumers pay a deposit for the bottles and return them to the shop or collection point where they’re retrieved by the corporate, washed, refilled and resold. Before the arrival of one-ways, all beverages were sold in refillable bottles.
Big brands moved away from reuse and refill systems and it’s clear, now, that this was bad for the oceans. The tide must now turn towards increasing refillables and decreasing single-use plastic bottles.
Glass refillable bottles are reused as many as 50 times and plastic refillable bottles 25 times. The case for refillables is easy: Reusing and reselling one bottle 25 times means not making 24 additional single-use bottles.
Oceana analysed market and scientific data and located that only a 10 percent increase in refillables in all coastal countries instead of single-use plastic bottles could keep as many as 7.6 billion plastic bottles out of the world’s waterways and seas. Given the catastrophic level of marine plastic pollution the world over, that is critically vital. Studies have estimated that 55 percent of seabird species, 70 percent of marine mammal species, and one hundred pc — yes all — of sea turtle species have ingested or grow to be entangled in plastic.
Unfortunately, recycling won’t solve this problem. Scientific reports have estimated that only nine percent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Putting more recycled content right into a single-use plastic bottle doesn’t meaningfully change the bottle’s likelihood of adding to pollution and finding its way into the world’s waterways and seas (consider all of the plastic bottles you’ve seen littered in yards, fields, beaches, rivers and elsewhere).
Coca-Cola’s recent commitment is critical for the oceans because the corporate defines how we buy beverages. It sells one out of each five beverages purchased worldwide – nearly double the market share of the corporate’s closest competitor, Pepsi.
Coca-Cola can also be the leader in selling refillables all over the world. Globally, the corporate currently sells 16 percent of its beverages in reusable and refillable packaging. Refillables are commonest in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Within the Philippines, as an example, nearly half of every little thing the corporate sells is in refillable bottles. Nevertheless, in some markets, like the USA and the UK, refillable bottles are practically non-existent.
Refillables, in keeping with industry analysts, also make profound business sense. They are sometimes probably the most inexpensive option for patrons over time as they only pay for the bottle once. This affordability helps sales in tough economic times. The share of refillables actually grew in Latin America during the pandemic from 27 percent in 2020 (pdf) to greater than a 3rd in 2021 (pdf).
And customers like them. Because refillables are cheaper. And since no less than some prefer the taste and drinking experience of soppy drinks in refillable bottles. The recognition of “Mexican Coke,” is, in keeping with some observers, attributable to the bottle moderately than the sweetener. The bottles feel more substantial, and may hold carbonation longer than single-use bottles. Well-managed refillable systems – in keeping with bottlers – also use less water.
Nevertheless, Coca-Cola’s largest bottlers — who actually determine the packaging during which the corporate’s beverages are sold — have to date, for probably the most part, made no public commitments to meaningfully increase refillable sales. The one large bottler to accomplish that is Coca-Cola Andina –- certainly one of the most important beverage distributors in Latin America.
Corporations must take responsibility for plastic pollution and fix the issue they’ve created. Coca-Cola won’t make its refillable pledge a reality unless the corporate and its partners step up. The corporate needs the most important bottlers on this planet to make meaningful and serious commitments to extend the share of refillables: corporations like FEMSA, the most important bottler on this planet (with operations in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina); Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (western Europe, Indonesia and Southeast Asia); Arca Continental (Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Texas) and Swire (China, Vietnam and the western United States). Coca-Cola and its bottlers have to also aggressively market the plastic-reducing advantages and other benefits of refillables to consumers – something they haven’t done yet.
Our oceans need Coca-Cola to realize its goal and with the assistance of its bottlers to significantly grow using refillables all over the world. Meeting this promise will help make sure that billions of plastic bottles don’t pollute and devastate our seas for a few years to return.
We could all drink to that.
The views expressed in this text are the creator’s own and don’t necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.