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Leon Kaye headshot

Before Talks Even Start, the Global Plastics Treaty Scores a Win

Diplomats are still sorting out how a global plastics treaty would work, but environmental groups are already claiming a win before talks start on Feb. 28.
By Leon Kaye
Global Plastics Treaty

Global plastic production shows zero signs of slowing down — in fact, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) estimates the amount of plastic manufactured each year is equal to the weight of all humans on Earth. Hence more policymakers and citizens are pushing for bolder action to occur at an international scale if society hopes to take on its mounting waste problem. To that end, talks for a global plastics treaty are scheduled to start on Feb. 28 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Even though diplomats are still sorting out how they would frame any global plastics treaty talks in the first place, environmental organizations including Greenpeace are already reporting a win.

As reported on several newswires, the Coca-Cola Company has announced that it will seek to have 25 percent of its packaging be reusable by 2030. 

“We continue to put consumers at the center of all we do,” Elaine Bowers Coventry, Coke’s chief customer and commercial officer, said in a public statement. “One way to do that is by offering sustainable packaging types. Accelerating use of reusable packages provides added value for consumers and customers while supporting our World Without Waste goal to collect a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030.”

Additional changes the company has promised this decade include: make all primary customer packaging recyclable by 2025; incorporate 50 percent recycled materials within all packaging by 2030; and “bring people together to support a healthy, debris-free environment.”

That last point can come across as vaguer than vague, but Coke has hinted that a strategy the company will use is aligned with the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), which has long touted the benefits of a circular economy. For example, EMF has suggested that converting 20 percent of plastic packaging into reusable and circular models adds up to a $10 billion business opportunity.

“Reusable packaging is among the most effective ways to reduce waste, use fewer resources and lower our carbon footprint in support of a circular economy,” said Ben Jordan, Coca-Cola’s senior director of packaging and climate. “We will continue to highlight markets that are leading the way with reusable packaging best practices, and to support other markets as they increase their use of reusable packaging.”

Environmental organizations have viewed Coke’s efforts — and those of its competitors as well as consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies more broadly — in a much different light.

Global Brand Audit, for example, has called Coke the world’s top polluter for the fourth consecutive year. The group’s most recent report lists the top 10 “corporate plastics polluters," and it's a who’s-who of several of the world’s most recognizable brands: PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz, Philip Morris International, Danone, Mars and Colgate Palmolive.

Each of these companies has announced its own plan to move forward on more circular and sustainable packaging. Unilever, for example, announced a year ago that it will collect more plastic than it sells by mid-decade. Danone and several other brands on the list have said that all of their packaging will be compostable, recyclable or reusable by 2025. The awareness is there.

As for any action? Environmental groups allege that such commitments aren’t moving the needle, which in turn begs for the need of a global plastics treaty. Meanwhile, companies realize that consumers are becoming more conscious about the growing plastics crisis — one that the global pandemic piled on, literally.

Greenpeace certainly welcomed Coke’s announcement, with an email release inferring that the environmental activist group’s online campaign was a factor in the beverage giant’s announcement. The organization’s activists were pushing for an even higher percentage of reusable materials than the one to which Coke committed, but for now Greenpeace is taking this week’s news as a sign of encouragement.

“Do we need Coke to do more by committing to 50 percent reusable packing by 2030? Yes!” wrote Greenpeace USA’s Kate Melges. “But for a company that sells 120 billion plastic bottles a year, this news sets a powerful precedent for other big brands, like Pepsi, Unilever and Nestlé, to follow suit.”

Image credit: Brian Yurasits via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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