A study commissioned by Oceana is critical of the plastic recycled content pledges by giants like The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo.
The analysis, conducted by Eunomia Research and Consulting, found that if the top five beverage companies meet their pledges, these pledges would reduce aquatic pollution from single-use plastic bottles by only 7 percent. In response, Oceana is calling on major beverage companies to adopt or expand strategies that prioritize refillable bottles.
“This report uncovers some worrying realities. It seems improbable that the recycled content pledges by large soft drink companies will be met and regardless, they won’t go far in helping the oceans,” said Dana Miller, Oceana’s strategic initiatives director. “Adding more recycled content doesn’t stop a single-use plastic bottle from reaching the seas, but replacing that bottle with one that will be reused does. Recycling alone is not the solution that our oceans need. Our oceans need us to return, refill and reuse our bottles instead.”
The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone and Keurig Dr Pepper have pledged to increase post-consumer recycled content in their polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET) bottles by targets ranging mostly from 25-50 percent by 2025. But, according to Eunomia’s analysis, achieving these targets would require collecting an additional 2.83 million U.S. tons of plastic bottles for recycling each year.
However, there is no coherent strategy in any global region apart from Europe to increase the supply of recycled PET for the production of bottles and achieving this would likely require government intervention. Recycled PET sourced from plastic bottles is also high in demand for other uses like making other plastic packaging, clothes and toys.
Of the approximately 511 billion PET bottles used in 2018 in the 93 coastal countries included in the analysis, an estimated 35.8 billion bottles entered aquatic systems. Even if the companies could live up to their pledges, their current commitments would have little impact on reducing aquatic plastic pollution, Eunomia found. This is largely because bottles used for recycling are expected to predominantly be derived from already collected and managed waste streams rather than from mismanaged waste or littering. On this basis, if all brands reached their targets, 33.4 billion bottles or 93 percent would keep flowing into rivers, lakes and oceans.
“Our study found that significantly reducing the flow of used PET bottles to aquatic environments requires collection infrastructure to be introduced in places where none currently exists,” said Chris Sherrington, project director for Eunomia. “While increased demand for recycled content can be expected to lead to a greater focus on obtaining used bottles, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will all translate into the establishment of new collection infrastructure while opportunities continue to exist to divert already collected bottles from going to landfill or incineration.”
To create meaningful change, Oceana is calling for:
- The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Keurig Dr Pepper, Nestlé, Danone, other beverage brands and the bottlers they work with to expand refillable systems in existing markets and create new major markets for refillables.
- Investors to seek investment opportunities with beverage companies and bottlers to fund the development and build-out of refillable bottle systems.
- Governments to introduce quotas for refillable bottles, mandatory sales of refillable bottles and legal provisions to use universal bottles for different brands.
To read the full report from Oceana, click here.
To learn more about Oceana’s campaigns to reduce single-use plastics, visit oceana.org/plastics.