SUBJECT : Greenpeace vs Coca-Cola Raises Plastic Litter Blame Debate 

 Greenpeace vs Coca-Cola Raises Plastic Litter Blame Debate
 by Rose Brooke

Kenan Kaya via Shutterstock

This week (April 9th 2017), Greenpeace blocked the entrance to Coca-Cola's London headquarters with a 2.5 tonne statue of a family appearing relaxed and on holiday watching a seagull choke on litter.

Greenpeace's Louisa Casson followed up the unveiling of this graphic artwork with a blog on the Greenpeace UK website blaming Coca-Cola on failing to prevent its growing volumes of disposable plastic bottles from ending up in the environment, while also failing to meet its green targets. The post also accused Coca-Cola of 'greenwashing', presenting itself as a corporation that makes sustainability a priority when really its green efforts and support for anti-litter campaigns distract from the company’s "lacklustre efforts to reduce its own plastic footprint".

But should big-name brands like Coca-Cola be bearing the majority of the responsibility for litter?

Coca-Cola quickly responded to Greenpeace stating that its PET bottles are 100 per cent recyclable and that the company was "disappointed" by Greenpeace's actions, as the two organisations had been working together on sustainable packaging strategies.

On tackling the side accusation that Coca-Cola has not met its 2015 target to manufacture 25 per cent of its plastic bottles from recycled or renewable resources, the spokesperson said that in the UK its packaging volumes have been cut by 15 per cent and 25 per cent recycled plastic is indeed used in all of its bottles.

"Globally, we continue to increase the use of recycled plastic in countries where it is feasible and permitted."

The statement continued by encouraging a holistic outlook to solving the marine litter crisis by encouraging industry, the government and communities to work together.

"We agree that action is needed, are open to doing more and to working with others to create long-term, effective solutions," the spokesperson concluded.

There are strong arguments to be made on either side. Coca-Cola as arguably the most recognisable brand name on the planet has considerable influence and therefore should be championing sustainability in plastics. Fellow consumables brand owners Danone and Proctor and Gamble put their corporate responsibility cards on the table at the Petcore Europe Conference on February 1st 2017. Danone, which has established its own Plastic Material Technology Centre for researching more sustainable plastic packaging options backs up its two main green strategies: to use more sustainable feedstocks than its current seven per cent bio-based and 27 per cent recycled materials properties, and to ensure no Danone packaging ends up in landfill. Proctor and Gamble is also championing greener plastics packaging with its marine plastics-manufactured shampoo bottle.

The notion that brands lead by example certainly holds weight, but the overwhelming opinion of experts in the plastics industry is that everybody has to take some responsibility for plastic litter.

"For the consumer, plastic is plastic. I'm more and more convinced that the easier the message is, the more likely the consumer is to sort their waste," said Ann Vossen of the plastic recycling thinktank Plarabel.

Carlos de Los Llanos of Eco-Emballages said at Identiplast 2017: "The good old times when you could say the consumer will sort and the experts will handle the rest are over. Industry has to work together to demonstrate what we can do and to be open to the expectations of consumers."

Still pressure is mounting on plastics processors in Europe. The European Parliament voted in March 2017 to increase household waste recycling rates to 70 per cent, and this measure was welcomed by PlasticsEurope Executive Director Karl-H Foerster.

"The European plastics industry has been calling for a legally binding landfill restriction on all recyclable as well as other recoverable post-consumer waste by 2025. As an industry, we see it as a priority for Europe as such waste should be treated as a resource," he stated.

Industry, brands, consumers. While the brands are what we all see on the plastic packaging that ends up languishing in the environment, it is important to remember that plastics processors and consumers surely play a big part in ensuring packaging enters the right waste stream? In terms of effort, all three sides must form as an equilateral triangle of effort to banish plastics from the environment, but maybe the most visible party - the brand - should beware its efforts are the most exposed to criticism.