Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

The environmental crisis caused by plastic packaging is well documented, and predicted to worsen — it’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Coca-Cola and Unilever are two brands making huge strides in working to alleviate the crisis by amending their products and involving and educating consumers.

President and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, James Quincey, has announced that, as part of the brand’s World Without Waste vision, Coca-Cola’s goal is to help collect or recycle a bottle or can for every one it sells by 2030.

In 2009 Coca-Cola introduced a bottle made from 30% plant-based material. The brand has for years been working towards making its packaging 100% recyclable and has looked for ways to make its plastic packaging more innovative. The company has also committed to educating its communities all over the world on what, how and where to recycle in the drive towards a circular economy where glass, plastic and aluminium are used multiple times instead of just once and then being thrown away.

For its part, Unilever has committed to producing 100% recyclable packaging by 2025 — packaging that is entirely reusable, recyclable or compostable. It has also called on other brands in the fast-moving consumer goods sector to step up their own recycling efforts in a bid to move towards a circular economy. In addition, Unilever is working towards reducing the weight of its packaging by a third by 2020.

The big take-out:

More and more FMCG companies are realising that they have a major role to play in recycling plastic packaging.

The challenge faced by all brands that are using plastic packaging materials is the considerable role the packaging plays in making the product appear clean, safe and appealing to consumers. Nevertheless, the industry across the board needs to be doing far more to ensure that the effects of using plastic are properly managed once consumption has taken place. It’s a collective effort and one that should be organised in conjunction with government and other stakeholders to ensure that collection and processing infrastructure is easily accessible.

While many companies may look to European companies for innovative recycling models, SA has had some success in this regard. More than two billion PET bottles were recycled in 2016 alone and according to African Business magazine, there has been an 822% increase in recycled tonnage since 2005 in SA.

The commitment being shown by global companies such as Coca-Cola and Unilever is encouraging, particularly when coupled with drives to encourage consumers to reduce and recycle plastic in a bid to create a more sustainable environment.

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