Outrage as Coca-Cola increases plastic use despite COP27 sponsorship

3 November 2022

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mondelēz have increased their use of virgin plastic since 2019 despite pledges to do the opposite – and they are likely to miss a key 2025 target, according to a report. 

Coca-Cola, which is sponsoring the international COP27 climate change summit, increased its virgin plastic use by 3.5% between 2019-21, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF).

The fizzy drink giant previously pledged it would ensure 50% of the materials used in its plastic bottles would be recycled by 2030.

The Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report found virgin plastic use has returned to 2018 levels despite global commitments to reduce plastic, and total plastic use has increased by 5% since 2018.

The report, which examined the plastic use of over 130 food, drink and household utility brands, noted virgin plastic use increased following higher sales as lockdown restrictions ended. 

Over 500 firms have signed up to the EMF’s Global Commitment, launched in 2018, to reduce their plastic packaging by 2025, based on individual targets.

Mars registered the biggest increase in virgin plastic use, which rose by 11% from 183,000 tonnes to 204,000 tonnes. PepsiCo saw virgin plastic increase by 5% from 223,300 tonnes to 234,300 tonnes, and Mondelēz saw an increase of 4% to reach 197,000 tonnes.

The report said: “While strong progress is being made in some areas, key 2025 targets are expected to be missed. The prospect of not meeting all 2025 targets reinforces the urgency for businesses to accelerate action, particularly around reuse, flexible packaging, and decoupling business growth from packaging use. 

“Governments need to take immediate action to accelerate progress and have the opportunity to promote a high ambition level in upcoming negotiations for a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.”

The target of 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging will “almost certainly” be missed by “most” organisations, the report found. 

Graham Forbes, plastics project leader at Greenpeace, said the report highlighted that voluntary commitments from companies to address plastic pollution have “failed”. 

He said: “Instead of tackling the plastic pollution crisis, big brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Mars actually increased the amount of plastic they create since the EMF Global Commitment was launched in 2018.

“The report pours cold water on the celebrated commitments made by big corporations who signed on to this high-profile project to eliminate plastic pollution.

“This underlines the need for governments to ensure that the global plastic treaty, which starts negotiations shortly, delivers major reductions in plastic production and use and accelerates a just transition to the reuse economy we need. Anything less than this is a disservice to our communities and our climate.”

A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “We share the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s aim to drive progress through transparency. We recognise the progress highlighted in the 2025 Global Commitment report but know we must accelerate action. We’re committed to do more, faster so we grow our business the right way.” 

The COP27 summit will be taking place in Egypt between 6-18 November and will bring governments and businesses together to discuss action towards tackling climate change.

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