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Rethink your plastic packaging

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Are you using and throwing away your planet?

Unsustainable packaging by Aveera Juss

According to the Cambridge dictionary, greenwashing refers to behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.


Unsurprisingly, one such industry that can be recognised for utilising greenwashing tactics to maintain a certain public image is the beverage industry, the key players being Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

A quick visit to the Sustainability pages on either of these companies' websites will certainly notice their sustainable packaging goals. At first glance, these goals might convince you that the corporations are making (or trying to make) huge strides in sustainability and the betterment of the planet but a quick look at global statistics, expanding landfill spaces, and the lack of immediate action proves otherwise.


For instance, the sustainable packaging goals are to a large extent focused on ‘recycling’, and while recycling has some merit, it is not the ultimate solution. Recycling single-use plastic bottles only delay the inevitable, i.e its disposal in a landfill, where it will take around 450 years for a PET* bottle to decompose, or its incineration, which will produce toxic chemicals when burned. Even with the industry’s rPet bottles (recycled PET), the question begs as to how many times can the plastic be recycled without compromising on safety and quality.

Plastic bottles on a beach by Bo Eide

The players in the industry often claim that glass bottles and aluminium cans result in a higher carbon footprint than plastic bottles, hence preferring the fossil-fuel-based bottle over the other two alternatives. However, this is just an example of how companies are choosing to use one statistic to justify their major packaging choice to the public. There is virtually no consideration of the toxins that PET bottles produce during their manufacturing, recycling, or disposal processes, nor of the implications of the impending growth of landfill spaces.



Moreover, most of the industry’s sustainable packaging goals are set for the year 2025 or 2030, but the damage is being done constantly - Coca-Cola produces equivalent to 200,000 bottles per minute. Given this reality, waiting till the year 2030 for some decent innovation could be detrimental to the health of the planet.


According to an article in The Hindu, Coca-Cola planned to launch 10 new products in India through its incubator in 2018. When you compare these product launch timelines with that sustainable packaging goals, it displays the lack of importance and urgency given to the design and implementation of a more environmentally sustainable model of operation.


Another instance that demonstrates the hollow words of the industry is the recent experiment of a smaller-sized plastic bottle format - a move which could significantly inflate the production of plastic bottles, particularly if these smaller-sized bottles were to eventually replace aluminium cans, which possess the property of being infinitely recyclable.

Altogether the industry is merely employing ‘sustainable’ as a buzzword and in doing so is effecting an inimical disservice to the people and the planet.



What can we do as Consumers?

For starters, we can avoid (or reduce) purchasing soft drinks that come packaged in plastic bottles, and instead choose to purchase our favourite soft drinks in glass bottles or aluminium cans - almost all locations usually provide you with more than one option, make sure to ask for it!



In addition, as consumers, we must also hold companies accountable for the devastation they cause to the planet, and demand corrective action. This would involve supporting organizations like Greenpeace, as well as urging governments to take action that can help bring about systemic changes.


Despite individual efforts, what we undoubtedly need from the big pocketed players is transparency and accountability - to declare their global plastic footprint, take a stand that their future plastic production will never again exceed their current, and commit to adopting measures to reduce their plastic footprint considerably in the forthcoming years, and lead the market in doing so.


The reality is that tackling this situation requires more than exploring ‘recyclable’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘plant-based’, and ‘paper-based’ packaging solutions. The players need to look past this use-and-throw mindset that engulfs the industry and explore solutions that propagate reusing and refilling.


*PET stands for polyethene terephthalate, a form of polyester moulded into plastic bottles and containers for packaging foods and beverages.



References

Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). greenwashing.


Greenpeace International. (n.d.). Stop plastic pollution!


Thomas, D. (2020, January 21). Davos 2020: People still want plastic bottles, says Coca-Cola. BBC News.


Aluminum Cans. (n.d.). The Aluminum Association.


P.T.I. (2018, May 4). Coca-Cola to launch over 10 products a year through incubation. The Hindu.



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