“Our aspiration – as part of our World Without Waste vision – is to close the loop on our packaging by helping turn more old bottles into new ones,” explains Scott Pearson, senior director, Global R&D Engineering, The Coca-Cola Company. “And enhanced recycling is the next big step in that direction.”
According to Greenpeace, in 2016, Coca Cola produced more than 100bln plastic bottles. With such a massive ecological footprint, and being targeted by various environmental groups, it is no wonder that Coca Cola would embark on finding sustainable solutions. “Since launching in January 2018, the initiative has underwritten and implemented new recycling campaigns, as well as reinvented existing ones, from Estonia to Australia, Kenya to the United States”.
In March 2019, Coca Cola disbursed USD 38 Million fund to tackle plastic pollution in Southern, East and Central Africa over three years. The funds will also support creating awareness on plastic waste pollution and accelerate the collection and recycling of PET plastic bottles. It is important to note that the countries in these parts of Africa have established a commitment to fighting plastic pollution; they have enacted laws and producers have to be compliant.
Kenya has arguably the toughest laws against plastic bags; the plastic ban 2017, threatens up to four years’ imprisonment or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) for anyone producing, selling – or even just carrying – a plastic bag. Kenya also enacted a Waste Management Bill & Policy that requires the government to put in place measures to reduce the amount of waste generated and, where waste is generated, to ensure that waste is re-used, recycled and recovered in an environmentally sound manner. A year later Coca-Cola formed the PET Recycling Company Limited (PETCO Kenya) to spearhead initiatives to collect and recycle PET bottles and packaging as well to create a favorable environment for the investment of additional capital in the PET sector in both production and recycling. This model has also been operating in South Africa since 2004. Considering the fact that only 9% of all plastic produced has ever been recycled, one could argue that these measures are grossly superficial.
Nonetheless, Coca Cola is only taking visible action in countries where the law requires it; countries that have already started a movement and inevitably aroused more public awareness of the need for a clean environment and are asking producers to be accountable. However, in Nigeria, there is no incentive for Coca Cola to implement similar solutions. There are no laws or policies against plastic pollution; there is barely any awareness, which leaves room for manufacturers to continue to pollute our environment with no recourse.
Coca Cola is simply greenwashing while doing the bare minimum. They cannot be a lifestyle icon and openly and knowingly destroy our world at the same time by allowing vast quantities of PET to litter Nigeria and the world. We know PET is bad for the environment; there are credible packaging alternatives; just use them and stop chasing profit. Your customers will recognise what you are doing and thank you.
We cannot continue to allow the media to make blanket statements about how much Coca Cola is doing to reduce plastic pollution on the African continent; while they might be genuine in wanting a World Without Waste, it’s clear that they’re going to focus on countries that demanded their compliance. And if Nigeria wants to become a part of that world, we need to hold them accountable.