One of the best things about working on Greenpeace’s campaign to end ocean plastics is the chance to have lots of conversations with all sorts of people about the issue - whether on local radio stations or with pedestrians walking past the 2.5 tonne sculpture we installed outside Coca-Cola’s London HQ this week.
Everyone knows that plastic pollution is a massive problem. We’re all too familiar with seeing plastic bottles scattered along our beaches or washed up on riverbanks.
But when it comes to tackling a problem of this scale, knowledge of the solutions is a bit fuzzier. It’s clear that to stop the flow of plastic into the ocean, we need to turn the tap off at source. This means ending the era of throwaway plastic. But that’s a pretty big ask. For those of us who live for practical to-do lists, how do we do that?
We’ve kicked off our campaign by calling for the companies that are responsible for selling single-use plastic bottles to us to commit to drastically reducing their plastic footprint, by ditching throwaway plastic. Studies estimate that 600 billion bottles will be produced globally this year - and Coca-Cola alone is responsible for a sixth of all plastic drinks bottles sold around the world. In the UK, 16 million plastic bottles will be dumped into our environment every day.
But isn’t it up to individuals not to litter, and to make sure the plastic bottles they use are recycled?
The answer is that we all have a responsibility to reduce our plastic footprint - individuals, businesses and governments. But there is such a huge amount of plastic flowing into the ocean - a rubbish truck’s worth every single minute - that we need to tackle this problem at source.
Think about it like this: if your bath was overflowing, your priority would be to turn off the taps - you wouldn’t first start mopping up the excess water.
So to end ocean plastic pollution, we need to prioritise reducing the staggering amount of single-use plastic packaging that is being pumped out and sold to us in the first place.
Our litter collection and recycling systems simply cannot keep up with the amount of plastic we’re using. It’s unacceptable that it’s so hard to avoid buying food and drinks in throwaway plastic packaging on your weekly shop. In fact, the 5p plastic bag charge in supermarkets is a great illustration of how individuals, governments and business can work together to make single-use plastic a thing of the past.
Governments across the UK introduced the charge to give individuals an incentive to re-use bags, and businesses started creating more durable plastic bags to meet this demand. As a result, throwaway plastic bag use has dropped by 85% in England, and number of plastic bags washing up on British coastlines nearly halved between 2014 and 2015!
So of course individuals are part of this change - you can try out our plastic calculator to test your own plastic footprint, and find out easy ways to reduce it. But even if you’re shocked by your results, I bet you’re a long way off the plastic footprint of major soft drinks companies like Coca-Cola.
Whilst it’s important, it’s not enough that individuals simply recycle more, as the big drinks companies claim. Without drastic action from the industry itself as well, we won’t succeed halting the flow of plastic into the oceans.
These companies spend millions promoting themselves as eco-conscious, but we’ve revealed that Coca-Cola sells over 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. That means if Coke do take credible action to reduce their plastic footprint and embrace refillable packaging, that can make a massive difference to our oceans.
They’ve done it before to tackle climate change, through reducing their carbon footprint. Coca-Cola used its influence across the soft drinks sector and its global supply chain to boost momentum for phasing out highly polluting greenhouse gases from its cooling units. Now it needs to do the same for its plastic footprint.
That’s why we’re encouraging people to demand change from these companies.Coca-Cola has already U-turned on its opposition to a deposit return scheme in Scotland this year after its own customer polling showed the majority supported this kind of scheme.
You can now join over 46,000 people who’ve written directly to Coke’s European CEO to tell him that ocean plastic pollution must end - and that he can’t keep washing his hands of the problem.
This problem isn’t going to go away unless companies like Coca-Cola drastically reduce their use of single-use plastic bottles, embrace reusable bottles and invest in ways of dispensing drinks based on re-use.
Our oceans simply cannot stomach any more plastic - tell Coke to stop choking our oceans. Email Coca-Cola's CEO now.