Beverage giants’ pledge to recycle every plastic bottle they produce slammed as ‘cowardly’

As part of its membership to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy Commitment

Called ‘Every Bottle Back’ and led by the American Beverage Association (ABA), the initiative aims to “reinforce to consumers the value of their 100% recyclable plastic bottles and caps” and to fund improvements in recycling collections and infrastructure across the US.

It is being run with support from WWF – an organisation which Coca-Cola is already collaborating with under its ReSource: Plastic initiative – and from Closed Loop Partners and The Recycling Partnership.

 Every Bottle Back will see PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper join ReSource:Plastic, along with the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds. Participating corporates are given access to a digital platform which enables them to develop specific actions on the road to reaching their long-term, large-scale ambitions to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. The platform is laid out across three key pillars, namely maximising, measuring and multiplying the impact which can be achieved if corporates “correctly” implement ambitious plastic plans.

However, the emphasis of the scheme is undeniably on plastics recycling, rather than reuse or reduction.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper have pledged to direct the equivalent of $400m (£310m) to Closed Loop Partners and The Recycling Partnership through an industry fund. The funding will be used to improve collection, sorting and processing in regions with poor recycling infrastructure. The three corporates will additionally run a joint awareness-raising communications campaign aimed at consumers and place on-pack recycling labels on their bottles by late 2020.

Coca-Cola’s president for North America, Jim Dinkins, said the company was “proud to come together with our competitors to address the serious issue of plastic waste in our environment”.

“We know we cannot do this alone and, in order to meet our goals and those of our industry, we need to work in partnership to drive collective action to ensure our bottles have second, third and fourth lives through continued recycling and re-use,” Dinkins said.

But Every Bottle Back has attracted ire from the likes of Greenpeace and A Plastic Planet, which have pointed out that most rigid plastics can only be recycled a finite amount of times, and that US-wide recycling rates for plastics packaging is currently stagnating at below 10%.

“This is just more recycled material from the PR world as these companies flounder to keep their increasing plastic-use alive; these companies should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to sell Americans on a pipe dream of recyclability rather than owning up to their role in polluting our oceans, waterways and communities,” Greenpeace USA’s global plastics project leader Graham Forbes said.  

“Putting the onus on people to just recycle more, rather than the companies reducing their throwaway plastic, is cowardly. If these companies were serious about addressing the plastic pollution crisis, they would stop making so much plastic and shift toward systems of reuse.” 

Action to date

Each of the companies taking part in Every Bottle Back has already implemented its own global plastics strategy.

Back in 2018, Coca-Cola unveiled an ambition to recycle the equivalent of all of its packaging by 2030 and to ensure that all bottles are made using at least 50% recycled content by the same deadline.

PepsiCo, meanwhile, is aiming for 100% of its plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, and to use 25% recycled content across its plastics portfolio by the same deadline. Keurig Dr Pepper was the latest of the three beverage giants to act, committing this summer to making 100% of its plastic packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025

Those interested in finding out more about what Coca-Cola’s largest bottler in Europe, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), is doing to tackle plastics pollution, are encouraged to read edie’s exclusive new interview on the topic with CCEP’s vice president of sustainability, Joe Frances. Read that article in full here.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie