End Plastics

Can You Guess This Season’s Grinch?

The Grinch, a holiday icon and notorious villain, terrorizes Whoville the night before Christmas by stealing presents from under all of the festively adorned trees. Although a fictional antagonist, the Grinch’s sinister characteristics could be compared to Coca-Cola. Why? Because it’s the world’s biggest plastic polluter and has been for five years in a row. Which may not be quite the same as stealing Christmas, but it is helping to deprive many of us ofa plastic free one at least.

Coca Cola made $43 billion in company revenue in 2022, around $25 billion of which was gross profit. A lot of that profit involves producing 200,000 plastic bottles per minute—a total of 3 million tons or 100 billion plastic bottles – every single year.

But Coca-Cola, like other famous brands, although a huge plastic producer, is keen to promote the idea that they support the use of recycling through slick corporate campaigns and on product packaging claims. For many this sort of marketing could be described as classic greenwashing. Greenwashing is a marketing gimmick that companies use to try and convince consumers that they are committed to environmental accountability when in fact, their actions do not back that claim up.  

Coca-Cola for example currently on their official website, advertises their ‘goal’ to shift towards a “more sustainable and better-shared future” in three key areas: (1) reducing its water usage by 32.4%, (2) making packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, and (3) utilizing 50% recycled materials in product packaging by 2030.  

But Coca-Cola repeatedly breaks these sorts of promises because frankly, who is there to enforce them? In 1990, for example, the brand pledged to use an average of 25% of recyclates in the manufacturing of its PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, bottles. Thirty years later, the current percentage used is only 10% recyclables

Now the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) is leading a legal complaint to the European Commission about Coca Cola’s claims that their single-use, plastic water bottles are either 100% recycled or 100% recyclable bottles.  Danone and Nestle have been named in the complaint alongside them. BEUC claims that for example the lids cannot be made from recycled materials under EU law, the bottle and product labels are rarely made from recyclables, they frequently over emphasize green imagery and virgin plastic is often added to the recycled plastics.

The BEUC argues too, that the very term “100% recyclable” is ambiguous because it doesn’t mean that a product will be recycled or that it is even appropriate to be recycled in available recycling processes. The BEUC points out that the recycling rate for PET plastic beverage bottle bodies is around 55% in the European Union and the chance of it actually ever becoming a plastics bottle again are around 30%.

The RepRisk 2022 Report disclosed there are a multitude of brands, alongside Coca-Cola, using greenwashing in their marketing claims. Now campaigners and advocacy groups are becoming more vocal about this issue and are putting pressure on the Federal Trade Commission, (FDA), which exists solely to protect American consumers, to update its outdated Green Guides. They have not been updated since 2012. They are demanding that FDA gets real about the risks of greenwashing and ensures consumers are not hoodwinked. 

After pilfering Christmas, the Grinch had his own personal epiphany: he suddenly understood that the significance of fostering love surpassed the allure of avarice and individualistic gain. Transformed, the Grinch embraced a new path, actively participating in the holiday festivities and lent a helping hand to the residents of Whoville.  Can Coca-Cola, like the Grinch, undergo such an epiphany and undergo a metaphorical heart expansion of three sizes to mend its environmentally destructive ways? 

Other drinks companies have made the leap to 100% recycled bottles – in 2007, for example, Suntory’s Ribena became the first major soft drink brand in Britain to use 100% recycled plastic.  There are alternatives to plastics out there as well. New technologies are gradually emerging in packaging production, such as biodegradable, plant-based, and bio-nanocomposite materials, which bring hope for sustainability throughout the food and beverage industry.  JUST WATER’s drink packaging, for example, consists of plant-based cartons that emit 74% less carbon than a regular plastic water bottle. 

Why can’t Coca-Cola incorporate these new sustainable material technologies into their product lines in the future? Will Coca-Cola ever understand that there is a greater good at play here and the health of the planet and humanity needs them to wake up to it? 

Coca-Cola needs to take a lesson from the Grinch this holiday season and start putting people before profits.

Here at EARTHDAY.ORG, we believe this change must happen now. Plastics are a danger to humanity and all living creatures, disrupting the delicate balance of life on Earth. Join us by calling out this season’s Grinch and demanding our governments implement change by signing EARTHDAY.ORG’s Global PlasticsTreaty petition and visiting our Planet vs. Plastics webpage to learn more about how to join us in our goal to help reduce plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.