One might think that Coca-Cola’s slogan 'A World without Waste' represents a truly green company trying hard to cut pollution, especially when they give promises about how they will do it. However, when closer inspection of the facts shows that same organisation is colluding with others to undermine that aspiration, hypocrisy and greenwash seem a more appropriate description.
How Do We Get the Facts About Pollution?
Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) is a global movement with more than 11,000 organisations and individual supporters envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. One way it is doing that is through brand audits.
What is a Brand Audit?
A brand audit is a method for measuring pollution on a global scale and holding to account those responsible. It consists of finding and recording the brands found on single-use plastic products located in local communities, both indoors and outdoors. it could include items such as bottles, food wrappers, bags or even cigarette butts found in or on beaches, parks, roadsides, as well as homes, schools or workplaces.
Conducted every year since 2018 by BFFP members (individuals and organisations) around the world, these audits are written up as accessible 'BRANDED' reports, used for revealing the highest polluting companies with the biggest plastic footprint, predominantly FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods companies).
Who is the Biggest Perpetrator?
The latest 'BRANDED' report reveals that The Coca-Cola Company has the highest plastic footprint for the fifth year running. This information was taken from 2,373 brand audits (from across 87 countries and territories), between 2018 and 2022. The other contributing FMCGs include PepsiCo, Nestlé Mondelēz International, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Mars, Inc., Philip Morris International, Danone, and Colgate-Palmolive. Strikingly, BFFP found a 63% increase in Coca-Cola's plastic production since last year, which they state is 3 times the amount compared to 2018.
Coca-Cola is renowned for being one of the biggest global plastic polluters and they have failed to uphold their promises for reducing plastic usage before. In 2021, Coca-Cola reported that they produced 125 billion plastic bottles which is 7 billion more than they produced in 2018. That's 33.4 football pitches worth of plastic daily.
Why else has Coca-Cola made recent headlines?
The company has made news headlines recently for sponsoring the Conference of Parties (COP) 27 and a petition was even created to remove them. This year's United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, between the 6th and 18th November (2022). The mission and goals of this year's COP related to mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration.
Although important conversations were held about restoration of land and infrastructure and fossil fuel usage, sadly there was no discussion of plastic pollution or reduction. Considering that plastics are a substantial contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions - 3.4% of global emissions (1.8 billion tonnes) in 2019 and rising, it is clear it should have been a discussion topic.
What does the future hold for brand audits?
In BFFP’s recent Corporate Brief for UNEA (United Nations Environment Assembly), it was noted that through the reuse and elimination of plastic packaging it is estimated that the effects of plastic can be reduced by 30% by 2040.
So far, the audits, and their subsequent reports, as well as the actions of the BFFP members have seen some positive steps forward. This includes supporting policy change through Extended Producer Responsibility and Deposit Return Systems, creating zero waste communities and plastic-free schools, and filing lawsuits against the largest plastic polluters.
Brand audits are crucial for helping identify which countries are making progress in fighting plastic pollution and this is essential for creating a 'World Without Waste'.
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