Coca-Cola managed to pump out over 100 billion plastic bottles in 2016 alone, a clear indication of its large contribution to the ocean’s pollution. But it also consumes more caffeine and sugar cane than any other single company in the world. Due to its shockingly large environmental impact, green organizations have flocked to Coca-Cola every year.
The food firm was against the possibility of introducing additional fees to soft drinks that would be reimbursed when the empty containers were returned, but in the seventies, the industry opted for aluminum cans that were easier for buyers to return, better to recycle, and didn’t require an extra vehicle to transport to a factory.
Coca-Cola and other big name brands fought against this principle and won, claiming the extra fees tacked onto the drinks would reduce sales. The traditional return system was substituted with recycling bins distributed to each home paid for by the government. This method was implemented almost nationwide by the eighties.
While companies benefitted from the lack of additional fees, the environment suffered. Coca-Cola’s plastic bottles are indeed recyclable, but are not being collected properly. Although soft drink companies were warned that return systems were best for the earth, they stubbornly refused to listen.
The return systems in 1929 were used by four-fifths of Coca-Cola plants and were able to complete many cycles of reuse to get the most out of the material. For comparison, researchers looked at other options and decided that glass bottles were the most environmentally-friendly. Because this was a rare method, the company went with plastic.
Would additional fees for packaging have affected Coca-Cola’s sales? Perhaps. But the omission of these fees has hurt the planet, causing recycling in which less than one-third of plastic bottles were reused. Fortunately, the firm is looking into bringing back the return system, which is expected to improve recycling.
This new system is a clear win for Coca-Cola, but they may always struggle to defend the sugar-laden liquid within their containers that is often linked to poor health and obesity. The introduction of Coca-Cola Life, a stevia-sweetened version of the beverage packaged in aluminum cans, is a step in the right direction for the health of both people and the environment.