Global consumers now use a million plastic bottles every minute. Though most beverage bottles are made from a readily recyclable type of plastic, less than 10 percent are ultimately recycled—and up to 14 million metric tons of plastic, including discarded beverage bottles, enter the world’s oceans every year. As our growing addiction to single-use plastic becomes painfully apparent on land and sea, citizens, NGOs and other stakeholders are calling on consumer goods manufacturers to do more to reduce plastic waste.
A move toward a more responsible packaging supply chain is long overdue, but a handful of food and beverage companies are finally putting commitments on the books. French bottled water giant Evian plans to use 100 percent recycled plastic bottles by 2025—one of the most aggressive corporate goals on record. Coca-Cola says it will “collect and recycle 100 percent of its packaging” by 2030, though how it aims to do that remains to be seen. Fellow consumer goods giant PepsiCo aims to make its entire packaging portfolio—which includes things like chip bags, snack bar wrappers and perishable food containers along with beverage bottles—recoverable or recyclable by 2025. It also pledged to forge stakeholder partnerships that will increase packaging recovery and recycling.
On that last point, PepsiCo’s Recycle Rally program looks to engage K-12 students in resource recovery and proper disposal. The free program allows elementary, middle and high schools to connect with one another, access educational tools, and get rewarded for recycling. Participating schools earn points by tracking their recycling rates—which they can redeem for Recycle Rally swag, including school supplies like lunch boxes. Schools are also entered to win cash prizes from PepsiCo.
The company launched Recycle Rally back in 2010 and now engages thousands of students across the country. Almost 4,000 schools have recycled 93 million cans and bottles over the past eight years, and PepsiCo has doled out more than $1 million in prizes and incentives.
In the latest phase of the program, PepsiCo released more than 250 free online resources to help teachers educate their students about recycling. Recycle Rally’s new resource library includes lesson plans and games, how-to guides for kickoff events, celebrations and recycling drives, and printable template materials to spread the word. The resources are also designed to assist teachers and administrators recruit staff to participate in their recycling efforts.
“Resources aimed at helping schools recycle more should be available to all teachers, faculty, students and staff,” Tom Mooradian, manager of environmental sustainability at PepsiCo, told TriplePundit. “Through Recycle Rally, PepsiCo is proud to equip schools with educational resources that are easy and free to use, helping to drive meaningful change within their communities.”
Recycle Rally is part of the company’s broader PepsiCo Recycling program, which includes public awareness campaigns, infrastructure partnerships and community engagement initiatives. Last year, the company joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy—a three-year initiative to rethink the plastics supply chain that has since engaged industry, governments, NGOs and civil society groups—to further solidify its commitment to greater packaging responsibility. Through the PepsiCo Foundation, the company is also a founding member of the Closed Loop Fund, which pledged to invest $100 million to raise recycling rates in the US.
"PepsiCo is committed to taking aggressive action to promote sustainability within our direct operations, while also acting far beyond our own walls through collaboration with others," Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo's vice chairman and chief scientific officer of global research and development, said in a statement last year.
While NGOs like Greenpeace insist current efforts from major consumer brands are not enough to move the needle on the global plastics problem, it’s encouraging to see these companies finally listening to their customers and making attempts to change—albeit slowly. Perhaps Unilever CEO Paul Polman, whose company is also a signatory on New Plastics Economy, made the point best: “As a consumer goods industry, we need to go much further, much faster, in addressing the challenge of single use plastics by leading a transition away from the linear take-make-dispose model of consumption, to one which is truly circular by design.”
Image credits: PepsiCo