Plastic-Free July - A Global Challenge

It's Plastic-Free July and as part of our contribution we're writing a series of related posts.

Today we look at plastic in our rural landscape, rivers and oceans and some of those responsible....

'Today we use plastic - material designed to last forever - for products designed to last minutes.'

UPSTREAM, (Global news Source)

The Global Challenge

As lock-down slowly lifts and we all return to some semblance of normality, we're once again forced to confront the increasing climate change emergency.

Although minds and concerns have been primarily with the effects of the Coronavirus and the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, the dire environmental situation still exists.

Its reported that the combination of higher consumption of convenience foods and lower priorities have meant plastic packaging in household waste has increased and recycling has declined but if ever there was a greater opportunity for us all to create a greener world, surely now is it.

Being a crisis on a global scale the pandemic has offered up some surprising benefits, not least the impact on the environment. Reports claim that during lock-down air pollution dropped significantly, with evidence that in New York for example, carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes had been reduced by nearly 50% and globally greenhouse emissions have fallen sharply.

Wildlife has responded to these improvements by flourishing in the hedgerows and beaches, some in areas not seen for some time such as the seas around Venice, and this is the way we want it to stay.

So the biggest issue now is how to utilise this information and expand on the progress made but it will depend on the commitment of citizens, governments and companies alike.

Pollution and the Sea of Change

#ReturnToOffender, A recent campaign by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) highlighted the problem of waste on our beaches and in our seas.

It has been confronting big global brands such as Pepsi, H & M, Cadbury's and McDonalds on the volume of plastic pollution they generate.

'Man is the only animal that fouls it's own nest'.

During the lock-down, information gathered by 45.000 volunteers in a large-scale British clean-up operation, was digitally documented and revealed that just 12 brands are responsible for the majority of the UK's plastic packaging pollution.

Of these, one stood out above the rest: Coca cola, responsible for 15% of all the plastic pollution found.

'Coca cola, responsible for over a 5th of the world's total output of PET plastic bottles.'

This is shocking yet not surprising.

When challenged, the corporation reluctantly admitted (having refused to reveal in the past) that it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year* - 200,000 bottles a minute, 108 bn x 500ml bottles a year and more than a 5th of the world’s total output of PET plastic bottles.

* 2017 figures

'Coca Cola - produces 108 billion plastic bottles a year'.

Truly staggering. In 2019 things were no better, it was also revealed by the charity Break Free From Plastic as the most plastic polluting brand in the world.

Recycling Excuses

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bea Perez Head of Sustainability for Coca Cola, said the company recognised it now had to be "part of the solution". She declared they had pledged to recycle as many bottles as they could by 2030, but not how this would happen.

More tellingly, when asked why they wouldn’t consider eliminating plastic altogether she claimed this would ‘alienate customers’. Generally the consumer buys what it’s sold so its highly doubtful customers got to have their say on the matter!

Plastic Footprint

Because of the huge problem, few big corporations like Coca cola are willing to reveal the scale of their packaging production and the resulting plastic footprint. This inevitably makes it harder to hold the large corporations to account.

They know it puts the onus of retrieving and recycling the resulting waste into their hands – a tricky and costly exercise.

Of the companies willing to divulge the figures – Mars, Nestle and Danone being the highest – they produced a combined figure of 8m tonnes of packaging annually.

'A few companies are responsible for a combined total of 8 million tonnes of plastic packaging annually.'

SAS are now encouraging companies to join the 150 global brands already committed to reducing plastic waste.

Tackling the Problem

Their aim is to do so by *eliminating unnecessary plastic, in particular single-use packaging, *pioneering new initiatives to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can easily and safely be reused, composted or recycled within 5 years, and *create a plastic circular economy where increasing volumes of plastic can be recycled and reused to make new recyclable packaging.

By this naming and shaming, large companies are now being forced to listen. The recent clean-up campaign proved just who the big offenders were, but of course, this is just as much a consumer issue as a business one.

'Only humans make waste that nature can't digest'. (Oceanographer Charles Moore)

Amy Slack, Head of campaigns at SAS, said:

'Anti-littering campaigns will be set for further failure unless the root causes of plastic pollution are addressed through a radical change in our approach to materials and recycling systems. Big business continues to put profits ahead of preventing plastic pollution and we urge them to deliver fast and meaningful action today to protect the planet.’

Making better choices, such as buying drinks in recyclable glass and ensuring we buy only from those companies committed to making the necessary changes, are actions within our own hands, although switching to aluminium cans is not the answer - easily recyclable, yet if left on shorelines and in rivers and seas cans take over 500 years to oxidise.

How can one company produce so much plastic waste?

Coca Cola has grown from its small origins as a drink developed in 1886 by the US pharmacist John S. Pemberton, into a huge global corporation producing over 2800 products.

The Coke and Diet Coke drinks are the most popular and widely known but the company are responsible for many others including the following brands:

  • Lilt

  • Fanta

  • Oasis

  • Sprite

  • Roses

  • Powerade

  • Schweppes

  • Appletizer

  • Dr Pepper

  • Costa Coffee

  • Abbey Well

'Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.'

(Jacques Cousteau, Marine Conservationist and Filmmaker.)

Companies such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and Mars are only in business because we choose to buy from them. For large corporations, money talks and only by choosing where and how we spend ours can we make them sit up and listen.

'Environmental pollution is an incurable disease, it can only be prevented.' (Barry Commoner, Biologist).

And this is the real issue. To make a difference, vote with your purse, don't buy in plastic and together we can help clear this synthetic scourge to make the world a healthier, cleaner place.