Not long ago, Coca Cola's UK branch announced that by 2020, all of its soda bottles released in the UK would contain at least 40 percent recycled plastic. Now, Coca Cola has increased that goal by ten percent. This means that by 2020, half the plastic in all UK Coca Cola bottles will be recycled plastic.
This is no doubt good news for the environment. Because plastic is not biodegradable, it is one of the biggest contributors to landfill overcrowding, and general pollution. According to figures obtained by The Guardian, global sales of plastics are slated to rise to half a trillion a year by 2021, including over 580 billion plastic bottles, which could ultimately leave humanity facing an environmental crisis.
To help with this looming threat, some companies, like Coca Cola, have begun applying circular economic principles to their manufacturing processes. These are principles which minimize waste by requiring companies to look at byproducts or trash (such as discarded plastic) as potential resources. In an interview with Sky News, Coca Cola's general manager, Jon Woods, explained, "I want all of our plastic packaging back because I don't want to see it lying at the side of a road or on a beach anymore than anybody else."
However, some environmentalists feel that Coca Cola and other large companies are not doing nearly enough to curb the amount of unused, or "virgin" plastic that goes into their products. Jon Sauven, head of Greenpeace UK, notes that, “Other companies are already at 5 per cent and are aiming to be at 100 per cent by 2020. Coca-Cola is huge in scale and this is not an ambitious target.”
These concerns seem well-founded, considering that the Algalita Marine Research Foundation recently found plastic to be one of the greatest threats to earth's marine life. Sea birds, turtles, fish and other ocean animals, including endangered species, can easily ingest or become entangled in plastic. According to the Foundation's research, nearly 270 marine species are directly threatened by plastic ocean debris.
Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, argues that companies should be working towards creating bottles that are made of entirely recycled materials, though even that plan isn't without flaw. She explains in a recent Greenpeace UK report, "Committing to using 100 percent [recycled plastic] to make their plastic bottles would drive demand for plastic bottle recycling," and that it may, "help ‘close the loop’ on bottle production, and therefore prevent bottles ‘escaping’ the system and ending up in landfill, on streets, in rivers and in the ocean.”
And of course, it's important to remember that just because a product is recyclable, doesn't mean it will actually end up in a recycling bin. Unfortunately, even if bottles are made with 100 percent recycled plastic, cultural shifts still need to move toward prioritizing recycling to keep these products out of landfills, the ocean, and our streets. But the more recycled materials go into our products, and the more we reduce and reuse instead of buy new, the better off the planet will be.