- Coca Cola's Head of Sustainability Bea Perez told the BBC that consumers like plastic-packaged drinks because they’re able to reseal the beverages in lightweight packaging.
- She also said that getting rid of plastic altogether and using only aluminum and glass packaging could push up the company's carbon footprint and hurt sales.
- "Business won't be in business if we don't accommodate consumers," she said. "So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us."
As many companies rush to meet promises to replace their plastic packaging, Coca-Cola is not among them.
The company has made sustainability pledges in recent years, but it's not trying to get rid of plastic. Coca-Cola has announced goals for its packaging to be 100% recyclable by 2025, and to make bottles with an average of 50% recycled material by 2030. Greenpeace has been critical of Coca Cola's current plan, saying it doesn't address the urgency of plastic pollution.
Coca-Cola spokeswoman Ann Moore said in an email to Food Dive that packaging waste is a major problem, and Coke recognizes that it has a responsibility to help solve it, but "all packaging has a potential environmental impact, so it’s not as simple as saying one format is better than another."
Coca-Cola has been criticized heavily for its plastic usage before, and Perez's comments are likely to only fuel critics' ire. They have already elicited negative reaction.
"Shame on Coca Cola yet again hiding behind the public instead of taking responsibility for the 120 billion plastic Coke bottles that pollute our planet every year," Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, told Food Dive in an email. "People buy what they are sold and it is Coca Cola's job to sell them something different — toxic free and nature safe."
Coke's sustainability head's comments contradict with other reports claiming consumers are driving the demand for more alternatives to plastic packaging. And the beverage giant has been recognized as a leading cause of pollution. In 2019, Coke was found to be the most polluting brand for the second year in a row in a global audit of plastic waste by a Break Free from Plastic study. Nestlé was No. 2, followed by PepsiCo.
Coca-Cola, which reportedly produces 3 million tons of plastic packaging annually, has made more sustainable moves in recent years. In 2018, Coca-Cola extended a loan to the Netherlands-based recycling company Ioniqa Technologies to develop the tools to process otherwise hard-to-recycle types of PET plastics. PET is one of the most commonly used plastic resins in food and beverage packaging, but recycled PET accounts for only about 12% to 14% of plastic packaging.
Last year, Coca-Cola said it is updating packaging for its Dasani water brand to help reduce plastic waste, and will ensure all Dasani bottles continue to be fully recyclable. A 20-ounce HybridBottle will launch nationwide in mid-2020 made with up to 50% plant-based renewable and recycled PET plastic, and aluminum cans for the brand will expand to the rest of the country this year, the company said.
Interest in more environmentally friendly products has grown substantially in recent years, and many shoppers want to see companies transition their packaging to recycled alternatives. Other big name brands have been working on rolling out alternatives to plastic. Although Perez said that using only aluminum and glass packaging could push up the company's carbon footprint and hurt sales, other companies are making more moves in that vein.
PepsiCo will start packaging its Aquafina water products in aluminum cans this year for foodservice outlets and is testing the change in retail. Smaller water brands, such as Vita Coco's Ever & Ever, are also using aluminum. About 75% of aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today, according to the Aluminum Association, while plastic bottles are not frequently reused, making it an appealing alternative.
Nestlé has announced a new partnership with Danimer Scientific, a manufacturer of biodegradable plastic products, to develop biodegradable water bottles.
But while it isn't necessarily leaving plastic bottles behind, Coke is continuing its efforts toward more sustainable practices. To make consumers see it that way too, the company may want to focus on what it is doing to help the cause rather than talk about what it isn't going to do.