Pepsi and Coca-Cola CEOs address plastic waste, but are they doing enough?

Plastic bottles from beverage giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola top the list of Greenpeace’s global audit of most commonly found plastic waste items. Coca-Cola alone made 110 billion plastic bottles in 2016 which is roughly 14 bottles for every person living on the planet. In an effort to respond to mounting pressure to better their practices, this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland  PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta and Coca-Cola CEO James Quinceshared a stage to discuss how they’re planning on tackling the problem of plastic waste. While ideas like recycling, recovering and increasing biodegradable options were floated, none of the solutions seemed to propose a bold outline to tackle the urgent problem of global plastic pollution. 

As CNBC reported Pepsi is aiming for all of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025. Most recently, Pepsi has been testing compostable bags for chips in Chile, India and the U.S. Meanwhile Coca-Cola is working toward recovering and recycling the equivalent of 75 percent of the bottles it introduces in developed countries by 2020. Last month, the Atlanta-based company announced two investments in recycling technologies that will allow Coke to use recycled plastics for its bottles more efficiently. Quincey said they need to think beyond just the recycling and also address every option’s carbon footprint. According to him, producing glass bottles (which Coca-Cola says have increased in popularity) has a higher carbon footprint because glass is heavier than plastic, however, glass doesn’t float, create microplastics, and wreak havoc on the environment the same way that plastic does.

Why This Matters: It’s estimated that taxpayers pay more than 90% of the cost of recycling while beverage companies and the makers of plastics assume little responsibility for their products once they’re sold. There are growing voices that wish for companies who sell their products in plastic containers to take ownership of those containers for their entire lifecycle and to support recycling infrastructure around the world. However in order to achieve this, we must pass legislation that supports this level of accountability, it likely can’t be left up to corporations to achieve it on their own–case in point, the much-criticized industry coalition, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste whose members are actually planning on increasing the production of new plastics.

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