Speaking at waste industry trade show Futuresource this week, Coca Cola’s European recycling director Patrick McGuirk said stand alone initiatives that each did their bit for the environment would not cut it any more and responsible corporations needed to look beyond the four walls of their own factories, warehouses or retail outlets.

“Six months ago I probably would have talked about incremental change,” he said

“[But} if we keep looking at incremental change we miss the point.”

He said he had attended an event similar to Futuresource and listened to presentations from major corporate players known for their efforts in the field of CSR but had come to the conclusion that these trials and schemes did not make ‘one iota of difference’ to the big picture.

He said it should be taken as a given that responsible companies should have their own houses in order – their manufacturing plants and outlets should be eco-efficient using the minimum resources and ensuring that in-house recycling was as high as possible.

But what consumers increasingly want to know is what happens in the supply chain and to products after they’ve been sold, he said.

“What Coca Cola is about now is not what happens within these four walls, that’s yesterday’s news in terms of sustainability,” he said.

“It’s about what happens to that packaging once it leaves the shelves, about the impact of the sugar beat being grown across Europe to supply sugar for our drinks.”

He said the single largest sustainability issue he had to consider was what happened to plastic Coke bottles once drinks have been consumed.

Attention needs to turn from ‘recycling on the go’ street facilities and back to how we deal with waste at home – where most of it ends up.

The British consumer, he said, was the most eco-aware – and demanding – in Europe but we lag behind many of our neighbours in terms of action.

This is, in part, due to the complexities and idiosyncrasies of our waste management system.

Mr McGuirk argued that the current system under which every local authority deals with waste according to its own strategy was a madness that had to stop, and called for a uniform system where everyone knew where they were.

“Right now, at-home collection is fundamentally broken; to have 438 local authorities with 438 systems is barmy, it just doesn’t work,” said Mr McGuirk.

He pointed to Belgium as a country that had got this right, where more of the onus for sorting waste was put on the public at home making for a more efficient system that had resulted in impressively high recycling rates.

Coca Cola has a role to play in persuading the public to embrace effective waste management, he said, and was not going to be shy about stepping up to this challenge.

“You can influence consumers, and my belief is that we’re actually quite good at that at Coca Cola,” he said.

“We should be influencing them to deal with their waste better.”

Sam Bond

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