Inside Coca-Cola’s plastic promises
Downing an ice-cold Coke is perhaps one of the most revitalizing moments. On the surface, it’s just a soda, a drink that you can purchase almost anywhere.
But over and above its tantalizing fizz is a plastic predicament that is slowly sleep-walking the blue economy into an environmental catastrophe.
However, the first step to solving this predicament is to understand the scale of it.
Every year across the more than two hundred countries it operates, Coca-Cola sells more than 100 billion bottles of its popular brands which include Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta, Minute maid, Powerade and Dasani water.
In areas where waste collection systems are flawed or non-existent, consumers mindlessly dump much of this single-use plastic bottles in the streets or into improper landfills.
It is when they are thrown away without a thought that the plastic problem begins. If plastic bottles are on our streets today, they are in our rivers tomorrow and then they will flow into our oceans forever.
There they become part of the plastic entanglement that has been chocking turtles, killing whales and turning the ocean into somewhat of a synthetic soup.
Exposed to salty water and ultraviolet light, they can fragment into nasty little micro-plastics small enough to find their way into fish bellies. From there, it seems only a short journey to our dinner plates.
Now Coca-Cola has been doing some reckoning and is currently at the centre of the global action against single-use plastics through a campaign called World Without Waste.
Coke has offered a reassuring vision and a commitment to continue producing recyclable eco-friendly substitutes of its bottles.
The soda giant is promising to increase the amount of recyclable plastic it uses for its bottles from 88 per cent this year to 100 per cent by 2025.
In what is known as the ‘Circular economy’, the recycled plastic is being used to mould fresh bottles for your favourite beverages.
Clean recycled plastic can also be paired with virgin material to produce entirely new products. This means that endless recycling of plastics is about to become a real thing.
Within Kenya, the Coca-Cola Company took a collaborative approach which other industry players to launch a polyethene terephthalate (PET) recycling company dubbed PETCO.
In 2020 alone PETCO recycled more than 320 million bottles into brand new products.
In some countries such as the Philippines, Coca-Cola has changed the iconic green colour in Sprite bottles to a clear one to improve the efficiency of recycling systems.
Coke’s global boss Mr. James Quincey says that in ten years, the company has an ambitious goal of collecting back a bottle for each one it sells. That’s nearly 120 Billion bottles annually.
He says that to achieve this ambitious goal, the company will deploy deferent systems in different countries where it operates.
In a 2018 interview with Bloomberg, Mr Quincey admits that in the initial stages of this recycling schemes may cost the company a fortune.
In the long run, however, recycled plastic bottles will be competitive and may offer a better consumer proposition.
But Coca-Cola isn’t the only large corporation betting on recycled plastic. Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Unilever are also working on alternative solutions for other types of plastics.
As the world leans more towards greener alternatives, issues of waste generation and management will continue being central to the success of corporations.