- Coca-Cola is falling behind on its pledge to increase its use of renewable packaging, according to environmental group Oceana.
- The beverage giant said last year it aims to have at least 25% of all beverages it sells come from reusable containers by 2030. But Oceana noted that Coca-Cola last month shared in its sustainability report that an estimated 14% of its total beverage volume was served in reusable packaging in 2022, a decline from 16% two years earlier.
- Many food and beverage companies are making changes to reduce their environmental footprint or improve the nutritional content of their products. Consumer groups have been keeping a close watch on their progress, with critics not afraid to push for more action or question claims of progress.
Despite Coca-Cola’s pledge to improve its use of renewable packaging, environmental groups have started calling into question the beverage giant’s efforts.
In April, Greenpeace criticized Coca-Cola’s commitment to curtailing plastic waste as it noted the beverage giant is using more single-use plastic but the number of refillable bottles it has in circulation has stayed the same.
For its part, Oceana estimated, based on Coca-Cola’s total reported volume of sales, that the reported two percentage point decline to 14% could mean it produced the equivalent of an additional 5.8 billion (16.9 US fl. oz) single-use plastic bottles and cups during the last two years. Oceana noted Coca-Cola said part of the decline was attributable to changes in reporting metrics.
“This decline, the failure of The Coca-Cola Company to proactively explain why this happened, and the concurrent decline in reusable share by some of the company’s largest bottling partners significantly undermine the viability of the company’s recent reusable packaging commitment,” Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s senior vice president, said in a statement.
Oceana said Coca-Cola needs “to step up and provide the support and leadership” to grow sales of reusable containers dramatically worldwide, including aggressively marketing the plastic-reducing benefits and other advantages of reusable packaging to consumers.
In an emailed statement to Food Dive, Coca-Cola said it is “committed to helping create a more sustainable future” and that it has “a responsibility to be part of the packaging waste solution.”
The Atlanta-based company highlighted a few of its efforts, including making 100% of its packaging recyclable globally by 2025 (currently 90%) and using at least 50% recycled materials in its packaging by 2030 (currently 25% across all materials and 15% for PET).
“We are accountable to our progress, and Oceana has acknowledged in our conversations that the [bottling] system is taking this opportunity seriously,” Coca-Cola said.
The maker of Sprite, Diet Coke and Dasani noted in its 2022 sustainability report that it used 134 billion plastic bottles, up from 117 billion in 2018 — making it one of the biggest users of plastic on the planet. During that time, Coca-Cola has increased the amount of aluminum and steel bottles and cans from about 60 billion to 73 billion, while refillable plastic bottles have stayed at about 4 billion.
Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles annually, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S., according to data from Grand View Research cited by EarthDay.org. And a report released in March 2022 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found the amount of plastic waste produced globally is on track to almost triple by 2060, with around half ending up in landfills and less than 20% recycled.
Consumers increasingly want their favorite food and beverage brands to pay more attention to how products are made, where the ingredients used come from and how they are packaged.
Some companies such as Bumble Bee and Diageo have tested out paper packaging. Danone’s Evian bottled water brand unveiled a new recycled plastic in 2021 bottle using technology that allows all types of PET plastic waste to be turned into plastic bottles. And companies, including Coca-Cola and Nestlé, have even changed the color of certain packaging to increase the likelihood that it will be recycled.