Nature and Biodiversity

Moving towards a world without waste

'Every hour, around 600 metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans'

James Quincey
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

When you woke up this morning, you may have spent about an hour getting ready for the day. You brushed your teeth, showered, and got dressed. Feeling hungry, perhaps you made some breakfast and watched the morning news. Some of you sent children off to school, while others responded to emails that arrived overnight.

No matter who you are or where you live, one thing is certain: in that hour of starting your day, an estimated 900 metric tons of plastic waste entered our oceans—the mass of nearly 600 mid-size sedans.

This is not only unacceptable, but also unsustainable. If left unchecked, packaging waste, and plastics in particular, will slowly choke our oceans and waterways. While this waste presents clear dangers to marine life that we see in disturbing images, it will likely have a broader impact beyond wildlife.

The world’s packaging problem is actually a symptom of a much more serious condition: we’re using up our earth as if there’s another one on the shelf just waiting to be opened. In fact, the use of natural resources globally rose at twice the rate of the population during the 20th century. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, global materials use is expected to reach 88.6 billion tons in 2017 – three times more than the amount used 1970.

We’re using (and wasting) our natural resources at a rapidly increasing rate, while acting as if they’ll simply never run out.

This isn’t just a problem for unfortunate sea turtles or the coastal communities that must deal with packaging waste washing up on their shores. It’s a problem for all of us, everywhere. And, like most problems, this one provides an opportunity to rethink plastics, packaging, and even our economies for the better.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals provide an important framework for addressing these global challenges, and we have been working to do our part. This includes promoting women’s empowerment, achieving an estimated 100% water replenishment, protecting human rights, and giving back to the communities we call home. More specifically, we’re trying to do our part to help make SDG Goal 12 — Responsible Consumption and Production — and SDG Goal 14 — Life Below Water — easier for governments and communities to achieve.

To support this, businesses like The Coca-Cola Company can challenge ourselves to do more—to be leaders in making sustainable business practices fundamental to how we operate everywhere in the world. In short, we must grow with conscience.

That’s why we’ve recently announced a bold, ambitious goal: to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030. Regardless of where it comes from, we want every package to have more than one life.

This is our vision for a World Without Waste.

To achieve this, we’re reimagining the entire lifecycle of a package, from how it’s designed to how it’s made. In 2009, we introduced PlantBottle™ packaging, an industry-leading innovation made from up to 30% plant-based materials. And for years, we’ve been working to make our packaging 100% recyclable, while finding new ways to reduce the amount of plastic in our bottles. But we don’t intend to stop there. We’re searching for new ways to make plastic more innovative and sustainable, and we are working to include more recycled material in our plastic bottles.

Making our bottles and cans recyclable is only part of the answer. If something can be recycled, it should be recycled, so we want to help people everywhere understand how to do their part.

To encourage more people to recycle more often, we aim to invest our marketing dollars and skills to help people understand what to recycle, how to recycle, and where to recycle. We want to encourage people to recycle as part of a circular economy, where plastic, glass, and aluminum are reused or repurposed as many times as possible, rather than being used once and then thrown away.

Because our company is in so many communities globally, we can share our best practices. We can collaborate with governments, communities, the private sector, and NGOs to help develop more effective recycling systems that meet each community’s unique needs. We can actually help make recycling easier and more accessible for everyone.

In Mexico, we’ve helped do just that.

Coca-Cola bottlers joined the Mexican plastics industry and others in 2002 to create Ecology and Corporate Commitment (ECOCE), a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging a culture of recycling. We also invested to help create the country’s two food-grade PET plastic recycling facilities, IMER and PetStar. Those investments have paid off. In 2016, Mexico recycled 57% of the PET plastic it produced (up from 9% in 2002), making it a leading country globally for recycling PET.

Just because we’re announcing this goal for 2030 doesn’t mean we’re starting from scratch.

Since 1995, we’ve been the lead sponsor of the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of ocean health — Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Over the course of that partnership, we’ve helped mobilize 11 million people to clean up 206 million pounds of trash from over 360,000 miles of coastline. We’ll continue bringing people together to help clean up existing packaging from our environment.

Importantly, we will be working with all stakeholders to help achieve policy changes that support a truly circular economy and a more holistic view of material use, collection, and reuse.

No one company, organization, government, or person can solve this problem alone. When we all come together through concerted, collective action, we can make a meaningful, lasting difference. That must be the mindset we all take. The guiding principle by which we all operate.

Because by the time you’ve read this far, an estimated 23,000 plastic bottles (600mL) have made their way into our oceans.

Together, we can reduce that number dramatically with a goal of getting it down to zero. It will require hard work, dedication, and investment from many players, but I’m certain that the payoff for our planet, our communities, and our business will be well worth the price.

Now, let’s get to work.

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