Coca-Cola Opts to Fund River Clean-ups Rather Than Invest In Reducing Plastic Packaging

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Cleaning up rivers and and streams after they've already been polluted with plastic is all well and fine. Even better is not letting the river get choked with plastic in the first place. Coca-Cola should keep doing the former and start doing the later.

Coka-Cola values cleaning up plastic pollution over reducing its own. The company decided to fund nine river clean-up programs globally with $11 million over the next three years. This is part of a partnership between the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute.

The programs the company will fund are in four continents (Asia, Africa, North America, and South America). The funds for eight other programs in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Ecuador, Mexico, Thailand, Jamaica, and Kenya are being finalized. Every project will clean up a polluted river and use data about the recovered waste to help change behavior in local communities.

Coca-Cola named the top plastic waste polluter

The environmental organization, Break Free From Plastic, conducted clean-ups of plastic pollution and brand audits in 51 countries in 2019. Volunteers collected 476,423 pieces of plastic waste, and 43 percent of it was marked with a distinguishable brand. Nearly 8,000 brands were cataloged, including Coca-Cola, which was named the top global polluter by the organization, marking the second year in a row for the company. Volunteers collected 11,732 branded Coca-Cola plastics in 37 countries across four continents. That was more than the next three top global polluters combined.

Break Free From Plastic points out that plastic pollution cannot be reduced “without these brands making major changes to how they deliver their products.” That means reducing single-use packaging. Half of the plastic produced is designed to be used only once and tossed in a garbage can. Only nine percent of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. While 12 percent has been incinerated, 79 percent has ended up in landfills or the environment where it either emits methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, or litters places like the oceans.

"It is the first month of 2020 and Coca-Cola has already redoubled its efforts to keep plastic in production and distract customers with more cleanup efforts,” said Greenpeace USA Plastics Campaigner Kate Melges. 

“Rather than commit to reducing its massive plastic footprint, the company wants people to believe it can capture this waste before it enters our oceans. This is as foolish as it sounds.”

Coca-Cola admits that the world has a “packaging problem,” and claims that it is a “problem we committed to helping solve.” To that end, the company created a program called World Without Waste which focuses on what it terms the “entire packaging lifestyle.” The problem is that the company is not focusing on reducing its use of single-use packaging.

Companies reducing their use of single-use packaging

There are some companies focusing on reducing single-use packaging. One of those is Aramark, which made a commitment to reduce its use of single-use packaging by 2022, including reducing single-use plastic straws by 100 million plastic straws. The company joined the UN Environment Program’s Clean Seas campaign as part of its commitment. The company expanded the use of reusable containers.

Unilever is another company tackling the problem of plastic pollution by making a commitment to reduce single-use packaging. The global company is committed to moving away from single-use packaging. In October 2019, Unilever announced its commitment to help collect and process more packaging than it sells by 2025.

What you can do

If consumers start buying fewer products with single-use packaging, companies just might start waking up. There are a few ways you can begin. Stop buying bottled water and use a reusable water bottle. Shop bulk bins for items such as lentils, beans, flaxseed meal, chia seeds, rice, oatmeal, and quinoa. You can even buy some spices this way. Bring your own bags to buy those items, instead of relying on the single-use plastic bags grocery stores supply. The grocery store chain Sprouts sells bags designed to be used for bulk bin items.

The key is to be more mindful of what you buy. Figure out where you can avoid something in a single-use package. For example, instead of buying a can of chickpeas, invest in an Instant Pot, which will allow you to easily cook your own chickpeas. Send a message to companies with your lifestyle. 

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