Greenpeace study finds fault with bottle sustainability

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Greenpeace is taking a big swing at plastics packaging in the soft drink industry, urging the bottling industry to use more recycled plastics and alleging the world’s top brands are failing to address ocean plastics pollution.

A new survey released by the environmental group aimed to gather information from the six largest global soft drink companies. Results, Greenpeace said, shows that recycled content constitutes a small fraction of the PET used to create bottles around the world.

Greenpeace reached out to Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Suntory, Danone, Dr Pepper Snapple and Nestlé to gauge the use of recycled PET in new containers while using the hot-button issue of ocean plastics pollution as a backdrop. Coca-Cola did not disclose global figures, the group said.

“The survey reveals that despite urging customers to be environmentally friendly, the top six soft drinks companies in the world use a combined average of just 6.6 percent recycled PET globally,” the new report states.

“That equates to 14 times less recycled plastic than virgin plastic used across their global packaging. Furthermore a third of the soft drinks brands surveyed (Dry Pepper Snapple and Suntory) currently have no targets to increase their [recycled] PET in their plastic bottles,” the report reads.

Aside from the recycled content issue, Greenpeace alleged the survey results “revealed a woeful lack of action by the soft drinks industry to prevent their plastic bottles ending up in oceans.”

The group said that while soft drink companies are on board with regard to climate change issues, some brands “are failing to even acknowledge their role in the ocean plastics problem, let alone take the ambitious action needed to tackle it,” the report states.

William Dermondy Jr. is vice president of policy for the American Beverage Association, a trade group.

“The issue of plastic waste is important as is the reason it is happening. Ocean Conservancy’s landmark 2015 study says the vast majority of the ocean’s plastic waste is coming from developing countries and a high concentration from emerging nations that have poor refuse collection systems. Improving those systems would dramatically reduce the amount of waste of all kinds from entering oceans,” Dermondy said in a statement.

“For decades now beverage companies have been at the forefront of the global drive to conserve, recycle and reuse resources. We are making strides in protecting the environment by reducing emissions, increasing water efficiency, improving recycling systems and lowering our carbon footprint, he continued. “We are making 100 percent recyclable containers of plastic, aluminum and glass, and our companies are eager to use as much recycled material as is feasibly possible for new containers. More can be done to ensure these recyclable materials wind up being recycled and our companies are doing that, from funding recycling receptacles for public parks and recreation areas to supporting single-stream comprehensive recycling systems in cities.”

The survey revealed some interesting numbers regarding the use of PET in the soft drink business. Greenpeace said its numbers show that more than 2.2 million tons of plastic bottles will be used to package soft drinks this year. And that does not include any statistics from Coke.

“Coca-Cola’s unaccounted-for plastic usage makes the sector’s actual plastic footprint much, much larger,” the report states.

The report also called light-weighting a “red herring” when it comes to the issue of ocean plastics. Lighter weight bottles, the group said, are still a problem in the ocean.

On the positive side, the report states that the soft drink industry “has made gains in removing so called ‘problem plastics’ from their drink bottles — [for example] plastics that cannot be recycled, or are particularly toxic. For instance, companies have taken steps to switch to more recyclable bottle caps, and phase out PVC sleeves and labels that are difficult to recycle.”

Greenpeace wants the industry to prioritize reusable packaging and develop delivery systems based on reuse. The group wants all packaging to be made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic, and seeks disclosure of the amount of plastic each company uses, reuses and recycles.

Gary Hemphill, managing director of research at Beverage Marketing Corp., indicated that plastic accounts for about 32 percent of all packaged soft drink product on a unit basis.