April 22, 2022
CEO Note: This Earth Day, let’s ‘refill again’ to stop single-use plastic bottles from polluting our planet
BY: Andy Sharpless
The inaugural Earth Day was held in 1970 to address a slew of concerns, including the pollution of our air, land, and seas. It was around this time that “reduce, reuse, recycle” became a rallying cry, but ironically, it was also when reusable beverage bottles started to be replaced with single-use plastic ones.
More than 50 years later, Oceana and our allies are calling on soft drink companies to bring back refillable bottles that can be reused between 20 and 50 times. Oceana’s #RefillAgain campaign, launched last week, highlights the absurdity of the single-use plastic bottle. It’s made of a material that can last for centuries, but it’s discarded after a single use.
Recycling has been touted as a solution, but research shows that only 9% of all the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Most of these bottles end up in landfills, in incinerators, or in nature, with plastic bottles ranking among the top 10 items found during beach and ocean clean-ups.
There is a better way. Oceana found that a small increase in refillables in coastal countries — just 10% — could take up to 7.6 BILLION single-use plastic bottles out of the oceans every year. Refillable bottles are still popular in many countries around the world, proving that it is possible to make them the norm again, everywhere. As Oceana’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Matt Littlejohn put it: “It’s time to go back to the future.”
The good news is that beverage companies are starting to do just that. In a major milestone for our oceans, Coca-Cola recently committed to making 25% of its packaging reusable by 2030. This decision follows campaigning by Oceana and its allies and, if met, could take the equivalent of 1 billion single-use PET liter bottles out of the ocean every year.
This commitment marks a return to Coca-Cola’s roots. The company introduced its iconic refillable glass bottles in the 1940s and, up until the advent of plastic, they were the predominant packaging for Coca-Cola drinks. As a household name and one of the largest beverage corporations in the world, Coca-Cola has the opportunity — and responsibility — to shift the industry towards an eco-friendly business model.
The public sector also plays a role in this transformation. A global leader on this front has been the Chilean government, which passed an Oceana-backed law last year that promotes refillables and reduces single-use plastics. Plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers, and plastic foam products are now prohibited in restaurants, bars, and other food outlets. In addition, supermarkets are now required to sell and collect refillable bottles.
In the United States, support is growing for similar legislation. A survey commissioned by Oceana found that 81% of voters support policies that reduce single-use plastic at the local, state, and national levels. This November, Californians will head to the polls to vote on a measure that would require plastic producers to reduce single-use plastic packaging and foodware by at least 25% over the next eight years. It would also prohibit plastic foam food containers and place a fee on single-use plastic packaging and foodware while requiring them to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2030.
Around the world, we are seeing high demand for policies that stop pollution at its source by limiting the production, sale, and distribution of unnecessary single-use plastics. Citizens are also calling on companies to prioritize sustainable packaging, and their voices are being heard. Here are some of the victories and milestones we have achieved with our allies in recent months:
- Brazil’s largest food delivery service, iFood, committed to make 80% of its orders free of plastic cutlery, plates, cups, napkins, and straws by 2025.
- Canada’s government shared a first draft of regulations that would ban several types of single-use plastic, including checkout bags, cutlery, certain types of foodware, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws.
- Belize implemented a threshold that bans 19% of the country’s solid waste, including single-use plastic items like clamshell food containers, carrier bags, and utensils.
- Spain’s Congress approved an amended version of the draft Waste Law, which would create a deposit return system, empower municipalities to impose fines on intentional balloon releases, and reduce single-use sachets and plastic rings for beverage containers.
- New York passed an Oceana-backed law that prohibits hotels across the state from giving their guests small plastic bottles of personal care products, which are discarded by the millions each year.
- The state of California enacted two new laws to curb harmful single-use plastics; one makes it easier to implement refillable glass beverage bottle systems, and the other requires single-use plastic items — including utensils and condiment packages — to be provided upon request only for takeout and delivery orders.
- The states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia passed laws prohibiting intentional balloon releases. Balloons released into the air can enter the oceans, where they can harm and choke marine life.
- Across the U.S., Oceana has worked with cities and counties to pass more than 40 policies that reduce single-use plastics at the local level.
Single-use plastics will not be eliminated overnight, but every policy change and private sector commitment means less plastic in our oceans. This Earth Day, let’s remember that “reduce” and “reuse” are essential to tackling plastic pollution and protecting our planet.