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Multinational beverage giant Coca-Cola has recently partnered up with a number of technology companies to develop a way to manufacture bottles using plastic collected from oceans. This comes after the company faced public criticism for its environmentally unfriendly operations, being labelled as the world’s biggest corporate plastic polluter. Proving that naming and shaming does work, Coca-Cola’s news may help avoid another public relations setback by innovating for the good of the planet and people.
Plastic waste is a global problem that has received widespread attention in recent years. Ocean plastic pollution is particularly problematic because most plastics that have swamped our seas is in a poor state or of low quality, making it highly difficult to recycle. In an attempt to combat this, Coca-Cola has collaborated with Dutch company Ioniqa Technologies, Thai company Indorama Ventures and Spanish company Mares Circulares to develop a new system where marine plastic, including low-quality waste, retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea and beaches can be used to make new bottles. Since the partnership, 300 prototype bottles containing 25% ocean plastics have been made, and the company hopes to be able to roll out these “upcycled” bottles from 2020 onward.
The technology enabling this innovation is depolymerisation, whereby lower grade plastics are broken down to be stripped of its impurities, and reconstructed as new materials to be used as food-grade quality recycled plastic. Prior to this process, non-transparent, coloured and run-down plastics could not be used to create recycled bottles.
Speaking about their green recycled bottles campaign, president of Coca-Cola Western Europe Tim Brett: “Too many of the world’s finite resources are currently discarded as waste…Our aim, working in partnership, is to see the term single-use plastic become redundant, both in our business and beyond.”
Prior to this initiative by Coca-Cola, the company was blasted by a 2018 Break Free From Plastic report, which pointed to Coca-Cola as the largest corporate plastic polluter in the world. Other grassroots initiatives are also calling out manufacturers for their role in pollution by conducting their own brand audits on beaches and shores. Filipino activist Froilan Grate, for instance, managed to persuade major brands like Nestlé and Unilever to change after collecting data on single-use non-recycled packaging littered around local coastlines.
Since more rigorous reporting showing the extent of corporate plastic waste made global headlines, Coca-Cola has not only launched this recycled bottle initiative but also invested 180 million euros into sustainable packaging in Western Europe. It also has plans to work towards using only 100% recyclable packaging, and ensuring that future bottles will be made from 50% recycled content. This is proof that companies do respond to public pressure, and that we ought to be pushing more corporations to innovate for good.
Lead image courtesy of Zero Waste Montenegro.