Coca-Cola Co. became the first "global implementation partner" of the Ocean Cleanup effort to position trash-collecting interceptors at the mouths of major rivers sending plastic waste into the oceans.
The Atlanta-based beverage producer will help the Rotterdam, Netherlands-based nonprofit group deploy cleanup systems across 15 rivers during the next 18 months.
The rollout will include a new semiautonomous, solar-powered system developed by Ocean Cleanup for its brand of technology called Interceptor. The system uses a floating barrier to guide river litter to a conveyor belt that sends it to dumpsters on a separate barge. When the dumpsters fill with plastic, the barge takes the haul to shore for recycling.
Two of the 15 Interceptors already have been installed by Ocean Cleanup in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Can Tho, Vietnam. The partners also plan to engage both industries and individuals around the world to address plastic pollution entering the oceans and support ecosystems, species and water resources.
"With 1,000 rivers emitting nearly 80 percent of river-carried plastic into oceans, this massive problem grows by the day, which is why we are always looking to accelerate our progress," Ocean Cleanup founder and CEO Boyan Slat said in a news release. "Among the waste we collect with our cleanup systems, we find many plastic bottles, including Coca-Cola packaging, so I applaud them for being the first in the industry to join our mission, as part of their wider actions to make a positive impact on worldwide plastic pollution."
Slat also said he expects to learn about global system rollouts from the partnership and he hopes it grows.
"Our clear intent is to take our learnings from this partnership, which has the potential to evolve in the future, and continue to scale rapidly," Slat added. "That's why I believe this is good news for our oceans."
For now, the partnership is focused on tackling 15 of the world's most polluted rivers by the end of 2022 with Ocean Cleanup's third-generation Interceptors, which are currently being built by Finnish company Konecranes Oyj's MHE-Demag facility in Klang, Malaysia.
The Interceptor is similar to a catamaran with a low center of gravity so it is stable and will stay upright. The vessel is anchored to the riverbed while floating barriers funnel waste to the opening of the collection system. River currents move the waste onto a conveyor belt, which delivers it to an automated shuttle equipped with sensors to evenly distribute the waste across dumpsters.
The Interceptors are solar-powered with lithium-ion batteries so the sensors, lights, conveyor belt, shuttle and data transmission can operate during the day, night and winter.
As an implementation partner, Coca-Cola will secure licensing support, deploy river monitoring camera system for further analysis of river pollution, engage communities where Interceptors are deployed and help process the collected plastic by sharing waste management expertise for a circular economy.
"As a global business, we are working to ensure that all of the material we use in our packaging is collected and recycled, so that none of it ends up as waste," James Quincey, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Co., said in the release. "We support the Ocean Cleanup teams and technologies that are working to protect ocean ecosystems in the journey to safeguard our waterways."
In response to the announcement, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar called the project “more of the same greenwashing from a big corporate polluter.”
“Coca-Cola continues to talk about a world without waste while producing 120 billion bottles a year. The company is fully aware that most of its bottles will not be recycled,” he said. “We will know they are serious about keeping bottles out of our environment when they start supporting bottle deposit programs.”
Coke has a corporate vision called World Without Waste that sets three global goals: to make 100 percent of its packaging recyclable globally by 2022 and use at least 50 percent recycled material in packaging by 2030; to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030; and to support a healthy, debris-free environment.
The company also recently set a 2025 goal to use 20 percent less virgin plastic derived from fossil fuels worldwide than it does today.
The Ocean Cleanup partnership fits in with its vision for proven technologies to rid the world's oceans of plastic, according to Coca-Cola Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Smith.
"At Coca-Cola, we have teams on the ground who will support the deployment of new Interceptors in rivers around the world, as well as the processing and recycling of the waste collected," Smith said. "Working together, we believe we can have real impact. That's exciting: It's something we know our employees in every corner of the world will get behind, by helping to support the local implementation work and as ambassadors for the wider mission."
Founded in 2013, Ocean Cleanup employs about 95 engineers and researchers. The group unveiled the first Interceptor in 2019 on the heels the redesign of its passive collection system for marine plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Made of a high density polyethylene pipe and a polyester skirt, the passive system collects garbage ranging in size from microplastics to ghost nets halfway between California and Hawaii.