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: Coca-Cola to boost use of refillable bottles in an ‘industry-leading’ move against plastic waste

Coca-Cola Co. has made a fresh commitment to reusing bottles that leaves several environmental groups praising the move and at least one activist sustainable investing group declaring the pledge “industry-leading.”

It may be fitting that the beverage seller made this move; by one measure, a recent Global Brand audit, Coke is the world’s largest plastic polluter.

The company
KO
announced Thursday it will sell 25% of beverages in refillables by 2030, up from a current 16%. In the U.S., the commitment aims to build on existing reuse pilot programs.

“Accelerating use of reusable packages provides added value for consumers and customers while supporting our World Without Waste [campaign] goal to collect a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030,” said Elaine Bowers Coventry, chief customer and commercial officer at Coca-Cola.

The beverage giant also reported Thursday fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that beat expectations. Coca-Cola stock has gained 23% over the past year, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA
is up 13.8% in the same timespan.

The company pledge followed a shareholder proposal filed by sustainable-investing advocacy group As You Sow and Green Century Capital Management, asking Coke to set stronger refillables goals. The two said they will consider pulling the filing after Coke took action.

“We are pleased to see the company increase its commitment to reusable bottles as a proven method to reduce single-use plastic waste and promote a circular economy for packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, which declared the move “industry-leading” among consumer conglomerates.

“We agree with the company that reusable packaging is among the most effective ways to reduce waste, use fewer resources and lower carbon emissions,” he said.

recent analysis by Oceana finds considerable potential to reduce ocean plastic by increasing refill market share. It said boosting the share of refillable bottles by 10% in all coastal countries in place of single-use polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic bottles could reduce marine plastic pollution by 22%.

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Single-use bottles are far more likely to be improperly disposed of and become ocean pollution, harming marine life. Refillables provide significant opportunities for faster, larger cuts in single-use plastic, since they don’t need to be remanufactured each time they are used, the advocacy group says.

Nearly half of Coke’s packaging consists of single-use PET plastic bottles, generating 3 million tons of plastic packaging annually, the equivalent of producing 200,000 bottles per minute.

But Coke has also operated significant refillable bottle operations in about 20 of its global markets. Refillables have demonstrated their ability to substantially cut plastic waste while providing substantial profits with a 90% collection rate. The bottles can be reused from 20 to 40 times. And less than 30% of single-use PET beverage containers are recycled in the U.S.

Read: Recycling is confusing — how to be smarter about all that takeout plastic

“Coca-Cola’s commitment to reusable bottles and containers points to a less wasteful future. It’s also a welcomed acknowledgement from the world’s leading plastic polluter that we cannot recycle our way out of the plastic waste crisis,” said Steve Blackledge, senior conservation director at the Environment America Research & Policy Center.

To ensure consumers will have access to refillable containers at fountains and dispensers, Coca-Cola will need to expand programs with fast food brands, such as with Burger King
QSR,
Environment America said in a release.

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