Coca-Cola and Its Bottlers Regress on Reuse Goal, Produce Billions More Single-Use Plastic Bottles
Oceana calls on the company to redouble efforts to meet pledge and to reduce plastic, including helping and encouraging major bottling partners to increase the sale of reusables.
Press Release Date: May 18, 2023
Location: Washington, DC
Gillian Spolarich,Anna Baxter | email: email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org | tel: 202-467-1909,Anna Baxter
Despite its commitment to increase the overall share of its products sold in reusable packaging to 25% by 2030, The Coca-Cola Company’s share of products sold in reusable packaging declined in 2022. The company, in its latest sustainability report, announced that the share of its products sold in reusable containers was 14% in 2022. This is a decline of two percentage points from the 16% share disclosed when the company announced its pledge last year. Oceana estimates, based on the company’s total reported volume of sales, that the reported two percentage point decline in share could mean Coca-Cola instead produced the equivalent of an additional 5.8 billion 500ml (16.9 US fl. oz) single-use plastic bottles and cups over the last two years in place of reusable packaging.[i]
The company did not highlight the decline nor explain it in its sustainability report. In response to a request for information from Oceana, Coca-Cola explained that part of this decline was attributable to changes in reporting metrics. The Coca-Cola Company – in its sustainability report – also reported that its overall use of plastic packaging and virgin plastic increased in 2022.
“This is terrible news for the oceans because it means billions more single-use plastic bottles have likely been produced, many of which will go on to pollute the world’s waterways and seas,” said Matt Littlejohn, Oceana Senior Vice President. “This decline, the failure of The Coca-Cola Company to proactively explain why this happened, and the concurrent decline in reusable share by some of the company’s largest bottling partners significantly undermine the viability of the company’s recent reusable packaging commitment.”
Major Coca-Cola bottlers have also reported declines in sales of beverages in reusable packaging since Coca-Cola’s announcement in February 2022. Four bottlers that Oceana estimates accounted for nearly half of Coca-Cola’s current reusable sales in 2022 – Coca-Cola FEMSA, Arca Continental, Coca-Cola Andina, and Coca-Cola Hellenic – all reported shares in 2022 that were smaller than those reported in 2021.[ii]
- Coca-Cola FEMSA accounted for an estimated 26% of all reusable sales by Coca-Cola worldwide in 2022. It reported that the reusable share of its total sales declined from 34% in 2021 to 31.5% in 2022. Despite this decline, Coca-Cola FEMSA stated that it exceeded Coca-Cola’s 25% commitment in 2022 (in its most recent integrated annual report). The company has not committed to a separate, public-targeted increase in its share of reusables in support of Coca-Cola’s pledge. In response to Oceana, Coca-Cola FEMSA explained that it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its returnable and refillable capacity.
- Arca Continental, which accounted for an estimated 12% of all reusable sales by Coca-Cola in 2022, reported that its reusable share declined from 26% in 2021 to 24% in 2022. Arca has adopted a goal, in support of the Coca-Cola pledge, of having 25% of all its sales be in reusable containers – meaning that the company has pledged by 2030 to have its reusable share – as a percent of total sales –be lower than it was in 2021.
- Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (Coca-Cola HBC), which accounted for an estimated 7% of all reusable sales by Coca-Cola in 2022, reported that its refillable share was 13% in 2021 and 12% in 2022. In response to an inquiry from Oceana, Coca-Cola HBC explained that, because of a recent acquisition and changes in reporting, the 2021 and 2022 numbers were in their view not directly comparable.
- Coca-Cola Andina, which accounted for an estimated 5% of all reusable sales by Coca-Cola in 2022, reported in its recently released sustainability report that its sales of reusables declined from 31.6% to 28%. Coca-Cola Andina has pledged to reach 42.8% reusable packaging by 2030. It is the only major bottler to adopt a goal substantially more ambitious than the 25% pledge made by Coca-Cola.
Other large Coca-Cola bottlers, including Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) and Swire Coca-Cola, have made no commitments to increase sales of reusables relative to other packaging formats. CCEP, which reported an increase in the share of reusables sold in Europe from 2021 to 2022, did not disclose the total share of reusables sold by the company.
Oceana estimates that if Coca-Cola meets its commitment to reach 25% reusable packaging, the company could avoid producing the cumulative equivalent of over 100 billion 500ml single-use plastic bottles and cups.[iii] In addition, based on global rates of aquatic plastic pollution from a recent peer-reviewed study, Oceana estimates that approximately 8.5 to 14.7 billion plastic bottles and cups could be prevented from reaching our waterways and seas.[iv] Coca-Cola, according to the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit, has been the world’s top plastic polluter for the last five years.
Refillable bottles, the dominant form of reusable packaging used by Coca-Cola and its bottlers, get reused as many as 25-50 times, depending on what material they are made of (plastic or glass). This means that each refillable bottle has the potential to replace 24-49 single-use plastic bottles. Coca-Cola FEMSA has reported that by using refillable bottles, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by up to 47% compared to single-use plastic bottles.
Oceana is calling on Coca-Cola to step up and provide the support and leadership needed to grow the sales of reusable containers dramatically worldwide, including aggressively marketing the plastic-reducing benefits and other advantages of reusable packaging to consumers. Additionally, each bottling company within the Coca-Cola system should demonstrate its commitment to the new goal by pledging to increase their share of reusables by at least ten percentage points above current levels. By doing so, these beverage and bottling giants can prevent billions of single-use plastic bottles and cups from entering our oceans.
[i] Oceana’s estimate was based on a comparison of the total amount of single-use plastic bottles sold in scenarios where The Coca-Cola Company maintained 16% reusable packaging as reported in 2020 in both 2021 and 2022; and where its reusable packaging dropped to 15% in 2021 and 14% in 2022 (the latter of which was reported by the company). The calculation of the estimated total amount of single-use plastic bottles used in 2021 and 2022 was made using The Coca-Cola Company’s reported case volume sales, reusable shares of that volume, and packaging mix.
[ii] Oceana’s estimate was based on reported case volume sales and reusable shares of that volume in public reports from The Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola FEMSA, Arca Continental, Coca-Cola Andina, and Coca-Cola HBC. Note, we considered share reported as “returnable” or “refillable” by the companies to represent reusable share.
[iii] Oceana’s estimate was based on a comparison of the total amount of single-use plastic bottles sold in forecasted scenarios where The Coca-Cola Company maintains 14% reusable packaging as reported in 2022 for all years until 2030; and where its reusable packaging increases to 25% by 2030. The calculation of the total amount of single-use plastic bottles sold from 2023 to 2030 was made using forecasted case volume sales to 2030 following the compound annual growth rate calculated for the past ten years of the Coca-Cola Company’s reported case volume sales, compound annual growth of the share of reusable packaging to 25% by 2030, and assuming that Coca-Cola’s non-refillable packaging mix as reported for 2022 is maintained for all years until 2030.
[iv] Oceana’s estimate was calculated applying estimated rates of plastic pollution emissions to aquatic systems forecasted from 2023 to 2030 by Borrelle et al. (2020) Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution. Science 369(6510), 1515-1518.