Coca-Cola has disclosed that it creates 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year, revealing the amount of plastics it uses for the first time in a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment.
The first Global Commitment report calls for an end to secrecy over companies’ plastic footprints and reveals details of industry and government efforts to tackle plastic waste and pollution. The 31 global companies who have publicly disclosed their packaging volumes include Coca-Cola, Carrefour, Colgate Palmolive, MARS Incorporated, Nestlé, SC Johnson, and Unilever.
Coca-Cola’s annual plastic production amounts to about 108bn bottles a year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year, according to The Guardian.
This comes as England plans to adopt a new recycling scheme that would see consumers pay a deposit on all drinks containers similar to those in existence in other countries.
Sweden’s Pant token system has been around for over three decades. Consumers return plastic bottles to recycling machines and receive a token (a pant) in exchange worth either 1 SEK for a small bottle or 2 SEK for a large one. The token can be used for charitable donations, go back into a PayPal account or offset against food shopping bills at supermarkets.
In 2017, 85% of bottles and cans were recycled, compared with a government target of 90%.
These are steps in the right direction, but the plastic problem is complicated. Few materials are as effective and versatile in packaging as plastic; it is light, durable and relatively waterproof . As Kjetil Bøhn, CEO of Quantafuel AS says, “The big issue is what is the alternative?”
He points out that the carbon emissions are higher if you produce a paper bag than for making a plastic one. He adds:
One part of the problem is it is very hard to mechanically recycle plastic – the moment you have printed on it, the moment you have different colors, it becomes corrupted.
Quantafuel is building a plant in Denmark to make cleaner diesel from recycled plastic. The Oslo-based company gets daily inquiries from companies asking about recycling plastics into hydrocarbons.
Bøhn draws attention to the recent EU directive including recycled hydrocarbons as part of Europe’s future energy mix for the first time. “That sets the foundations for a new market, increasing interest from oil majors and the petrochemical industry,” observes Bøhn. “Everyone who produces plastic will be under pressure to recycle it as energy.”
This has important implications for the petrochemical industry. In a report into the plastic packaging problem, McKinsey & Co argue that the chemical industry potentially has a lot to gain, by building a new recycling-based branch of the petrochemicals and plastics industry. This could generate a profit pool of $55 billion per year by 2030.
The consultants estimate that if plastics demand follows its current trajectory, global plastics-waste volumes would grow from 260 million tons per year in 2016 to 460 million tons per year by 2030, taking what is already a serious environmental problem to a whole new level.