A new report is calling on Coca-Cola to bring back refillable bottles to the United States. In early 2022, the beverage giant announced the goal to reach 25% reusable packaging by 2030, but it appears those plans may not include the U.S.
Break Free From Plastic has named Coca-Cola the world’s worst plastic polluter for five years in a row. The report analyzed trash-collection data from 200,000 volunteers who gathered trash from various places in 87 countries over the five years. Polluters were defined as “corporations that pollute the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste,” per The Independent.
The beverage industry produces more than 580 billion plastic bottles globally each year, per the report’s executive summary. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft drink company, reportedly accounts for 23% of those bottles, having produced 134 billion plastic bottles in 2022. According to the Sierra Club, citing The Guardian, Coca-Cola produces 3 million tons of plastic packaging waste each year.
The report’s executive summary stated, “Coca-Cola’s failure to commit to a refillables target in the United States is both ironic and not terribly surprising.”
Why bringing back refillable bottles is important
Despite widespread recycling programs, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, per the World Economic Forum. Many of the plastic bottles that don’t get recycled end up polluting the environment.
The best example of this may be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is made up of smaller (but still huge) garbage patches: the Western Garbage Patch near Japan and the Eastern Garbage Patch off the western coast of North America, meeting in the Subtropical Convergence Zone in the North Pacific, per National Geographic. According to research, over 99% of the overall garbage patch is made up of plastics, much of it plastic bottles.
Even plastic bottles that make it into landfills are harmful to the environment, as they can take up to 1,000 years each to decompose, per some estimates.
The use of plastic bottles also contributes to pollution in the atmosphere. The 134 billion plastic bottles produced by Coca-Cola in 2022 created more than 16 million tons of carbon pollution, the equivalent of 16 coal-fired power plants, according to the new report’s summary.
What’s being done to bring refillable bottles back to the U.S.?
The report calls on legislators to require all beverage companies, not just Coca-Cola, to reach 25% reuse by 2030 through deposit return systems. Such programs have already been hugely successful in some European countries, with return rates reaching as high as 96%.
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