Oceana report: Soft drink industry can stop billions of plastic bottles from polluting the ocean by switching from single-use, throwaway bottles to refillables | Oceana

Oceana report: Soft drink industry can stop billions of plastic bottles from polluting the ocean by switching from single-use, throwaway bottles to refillables

Press Release Date: January 27, 2020

Location: New York, NY


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation, released a report today finding that the beverage industry could decrease marine plastic pollution by 4.5 billion to 7.6 billion bottles each year, a 22% decrease, by increasing the market share of soft drinks and water sold in refillable bottles by just 10% (in place of single-use throwaway PET bottles). The report, entitled “Just one word: Refillables. How the soft drink industry can reduce marine plastic pollution by billions of bottles each year,” also estimates that between 20 billion and 34 billion plastic PET bottles produced and sold by the soft drink or Non-Alcoholic Ready to Drink (NARTD) industry enter the ocean each year.

“Beverage companies are major ocean polluters and are producing billions of plastic bottles every year that end up in the sea essentially forever,” said Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless. “They need to take responsibility and make commitments to reduce plastic production and waste.”

The report was announced at investor and media briefings held at HSBC USA headquarters in New York. Attendees also heard about HSBC Global Research reports detailing how prominent bottlers in Latin America are leading the trend toward refillables.

“As public awareness of plastic waste in the world’s oceans grows, the global beverage industry is grappling with the risk of brand damage and higher regulatory costs from its outsized reliance on disposable plastic bottles. Oceana’s report brings much-needed insight into the scale of the environmental problem and an emerging solution in a transition to refillables,” said Carlos Laboy, Global Beverage Head and Latin American Food Analyst, HSBC Securities (USA) Inc.

At today’s briefings, Laboy moderated a discussion with Bill Taylor, former CEO of a Brazilian soft drink bottler, Dr. Henning Wilts of the Wuppertal Institute, and Anne Schroeer and Matt Littlejohn from Oceana (authors, along with Wilts, of the Oceana report). 

Refillables are bottles that companies sell to customers and then are returned, washed, refilled, and sold again. Customers return these bottles because they pay a deposit that is refunded to them upon returning the bottle. The bottles, made from both PET plastic and glass, are used 20 to 50 times. Until recently, refillables systems were the primary way beverage companies sold soft drinks around the world.

The report notes that studies have found that refillable bottles have a lower carbon footprint than single-use throwaway plastic bottles, citing recent life cycle analysis studies in Germany and Chile.  Dr. Wilts writes in the report that “looking at the specific case of refillable PET bottles as compared to single-use bottles, (lifecycle) analyses found that refillables save up to 40% of raw materials and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Schroeer, lead author of Oceana’s report and a Senior Manager for Oceana, said, “Despite the industry’s focus on growing share for single-use throwaway bottles, the data shows that refillables continue to be a viable system that is better for the oceans and that the industry can easily grow. Refillable systems, while no longer popular in the United States, account for more than 30% of beverages sold in major markets including Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, and Indonesia.” 

“It’s simple,” added Littlejohn, Senior Vice President for Oceana. “Billions of single-use throwaway bottles, because they are made to be thrown away, become trash and pollution. And, refillables, because they are made to be returned to the company and used again, generally don’t.”

Recycling rates are declining in the U.S., and only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, Oceana’s report notes. In addition, single-use throwaway bottles with recycled content still become pollution in the ocean because the companies don’t recover these bottles after selling them. By contrast, 95% to 99% of refillables are returned to beverage companies for re-use.  

“If a bottle is thrown away, that bottle may still end up in the ocean – no matter how much recycled content it has in it. Recycling is not magic. The way to reduce PET plastic bottle marine pollution is to produce and sell fewer single-use throwaway bottles,” added Littlejohn.

The beverage industry sells 445 billion liters of non-alcoholic beverages in PET bottles annually in the countries surveyed.  According to International Coastal Clean-up data analyzed by Oceana, plastic bottles were the most commonly found plastic items in beach clean-ups worldwide when measured by weight. Additionally, beach surveys in 51 countries conducted by members of the Break Free from Plastic Coalition identified soft drink company bottles as the first and third most commonly found branded items among ocean plastic pollution collected.

Studies have found that plastic pollution is dramatically impacting life in the oceans. A recent report found that 90% of all seabird species have ingested plastic, and even zooplankton – the base of the food chain – has been found to be ingesting plastic. Scientists estimate that four times more plastic will be produced between now and 2050 than has been produced in all of history. Oceana is campaigning around the world to reduce throwaway plastic production and address this problem at its source.

Oceana’s report analyzed recent beverage market statistics for refillable and throwaway bottles from the company GlobalData along with projections from the peer-reviewed study “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean,” published in Science in 2015.

To access Oceana’s full report, please visit oceana.org/Refill.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.oceana.org to learn more.