Greenpeace slams ‘jaw-dropping’ inaction on marine pollution from soft drinks firms

A new Greenpeace UK report has condemned the "woeful lack of action" by the soft drinks industry to prevent ocean plastic pollution, as figures show the world's top six brands use a combined average of just 6.6% recycled plastic in their bottles.

Greenpeace UK conducted a comprehensive study of the plastic footprints and policies of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Suntory, Danone, Dr Pepper Snapple and Nestlé, five of which sell a combined total of more than two million tonnes of plastic bottles each year.

The largest brand, Coca-Cola, apparently refused to disclose the size of its plastic footprint, making the actual total figure significantly higher. None of the companies surveyed have commitments to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bottles they use, while four of the six brands do not consider the impact of plastic bottles on oceans in their product design.

“Our lives are awash with throwaway plastic,” Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said. “12 million tonnes of the stuff is ending up in our oceans every year, where it harms marine life, spreads toxic chemicals and can take centuries to break down.

“We know that plastic bottles are a huge ocean-polluter and in the UK alone we dump 16 million of them in our environment every day. So it’s not good enough for the biggest soft drinks companies in the world to pump out millions of tonnes of throwaway bottles and then blame everyone but themselves for their environmental impact.

“The results of this report are jaw-dropping. It’s clear that if we’re going to protect our oceans we need to end the age of throwaway plastic.”

Taking action

Greenpeace UK found that a third of the investigated companies currently have no global targets to increase their use of recycled content in plastic bottles, and none are aiming for 100% recycled content within what the campaign group believes to be an “ambitious” timeframe.

Most are instead focusing their efforts on developing bioplastics or ‘lightweighting’ – making polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to reduce costs, plastics-use and carbon emissions. Greenpeace claims that these methods fail to tackle the problem of ocean plastics, as they still pose an ingestion and choking threat to marine life.

Greenpeace’s questioning found that, over the past 10 years, the soft drinks industry has been consistently decreasing their use of refillable bottles. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the brands surveyed have a global policy opposing the introduction of deposit return schemes on drinks containers.

Greenpeace is calling on these companies to take “drastic action” to phase out single-use plastic, embrace re-usable packaging and ensure the remainder is made from 100% recycled content. The soft drinks industry is also being urged to disclose the types and amount of plastics it uses, re-uses and recycles.

Sea-change in attitudes

With the Ellen MacArthur Foundation warning that there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050, governments and businesses are gradually realising the need to establish policies which prevent hazardous materials, such as plastic microbeads, from entering the marine environment.

Conservationists have warned that microbeads – tiny plastic particles – can affect fish growth and persist in the guts of mussels and fish that mistake them for food. The UK recently took the decision to tackle microbeads in cosmetics, which will be banned from sale in the UK by the end of 2017.

The private sector’s attempts to combat rising plastic ocean waste has ramped up in recent months, with initiatives ranging from basic cutbacks to innovative new products. Computer firm Dell, for example, last month achieved a new first for the technology industry, after converting waste plastic found on beaches and in waterways into new packaging for one of its laptop products.

London retailer Selfridges, meanwhile, has stopped the sale of single-use plastic water bottles in its shops, while designer clothing company G-Star RAW joined forces with marine pollution campaign group the Plastic Soup Foundation in an effort to prevent microfibres from entering into oceans

Elsewhere, global sportswear manufacturer Adidas looks set to push around 7,000 pairs of trainers made from 95% ocean plastic into the market. And the Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) announced earlier this year that it will be mass-producing the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) beach plastic.

George Ogleby

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