Coke and Pepsi among drinks giants that could make big difference to plastic pollution with refillables switch, report finds

A switch away from disposable plastic bottles to refillables by global soft drinks giants like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Dr Pepper, Snapple and Danone would more drastically cut plastic pollution than improved recycling alone, a new report has found.

Estimates suggest about 12 million tonnes of plastic litter ends up in seas worldwide each year, including around 22 billion single-use drinks bottles.

Recent research has shown more than half of identifiable litter found can be traced back to just ten brands – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cadbury, Red Bull, Walkers, Lucozade, Stella Artois, Tesco, Budweiser and Strongbow.

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Single-use plastic bottles end up in the oceans because they were designed to be discarded — into a rubbish or recycling bin, or as litter — after only one use.

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The companies selling these bottles have no control over where they end up, their fate depending entirely on what consumers decide to do with the containers after using them and the efficiency of waste collection systems in the countries where the drinks are consumed.

Analysis by Eunomia, an independent consultancy focusing on sustainability, found that pledges by the world’s biggest brands to increase the recycled content in their single-use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles will only lead to a 7 per cent reduction in the number entering the aquatic environment.

An estimated 33.4 billion PET bottles will still wash up in rivers, lakes and oceans.

Refillables offer a better solution to the problem of plastic bottles polluting the world’s marine environment, the report suggests.

International marine conservation charity Oceana, which commissioned the research, is calling on major beverage companies to adopt or expand strategies that prioritise refillable bottles.

The charity estimates that increasing refillable bottles by just 10 per cent in all coastal counties, replacing single-use plastic bottles, could prevent up to 7.6 billion bottles from ending up in the sea every year.

It also calculates that a massive 2.57 million tonnes of additional PET bottles will need to be collected each year around the world to meet the increased demand for recycled plastic created by drinks manufacturer’s pledges.

To successfully gather these extra bottles, the global collection rate must increase by 43 per cent – equating to the collection of thousands more bottles every second.

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