It’s time to have impactful conversations about — and drive action on — environmental health, and in particular, plastic pollution and forming partnerships that tackle the problem successfully.
This was the point that South Africa’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy made when she spoke at the Plastics Colloquium held in Boksburg in the East Rand, Gauteng, this past November.
The Plastics Colloquium, which was held over two days, was a first-of-its-kind gathering. It was attended by civil society, government, and stakeholders including Plastics SA, the Consumer Goods Council, and the South African Waste Pickers Association.
The colloquium was held to explore actions that can be taken by all to reduce littering and plastic waste in South Africa. Coca-Cola Africa was also in attendance.
The company, a Global Citizen partner, highlights that looking after the environment is business as usual. Coca-Cola Africa also believes that reaching the targets set by the United Nations Global Goals 14 and 15 — for protecting life below water and life on land — requires partnerships with communities and policymakers.
The company took part in numerous panel discussions and workshops that formed part of the Plastics Colloquium.
The workshops discussed the role of product design in promoting environmental health, as well as the value of investing in education and awareness campaigns that promote recycling.
Other topics included building infrastructure that supports recycling initiatives, such as the 10-year partnership between Coca-Cola Africa and the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), which promotes and regulates the recycling of bottles and containers.
As a result of the partnership, South Africa has seen an increase in recycling from single digits in 2000 to 65% in 2017.
Beating plastic pollution
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems facing the world today. There are more than 51 trillion pieces of microplastic (pieces of plastic smaller than five millimetres) in the ocean, while plastic makes up 90% of all waste in the ocean.
Meanwhile, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally every year, and it’s believed that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if plastic pollution continues at the current rate.
Plastic pollution is a problem that threatens wildlife and humans, and tackling it requires sustainable solutions that will reduce and ultimately remove the impact of plastic on the environment — a vision that’s at the core of the Coca-Cola Company’s World Without Waste campaign.
The business launched the World Without Waste initiative, which aims to make Coca-Cola's packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, and to collect and recycle every bottle or can the business sells by 2030.
“Now, we need more companies to agree to focus on their packaging lifecycle — from how bottles and cans are designed and produced, to integrating recycling in supply chains instead of using virgin plastic,” a spokesperson for Coca Cola Africa told Global Citizen. “In South Africa, environmental initiatives implemented by the government and private sector have resulted in 46% of plastic being reused or recycled. But more needs to be done to tackle this plastic epidemic.”
Coca Cola believes that everyone has a responsibility towards ending plastic pollution. This includes the manufacturers of products — who should look to include more recycled content into their packaging and products — and government and waste management companies, who should work towards creating infrastructure that enables the right recycling behaviours.
The company also believes that consumers and individuals should demand more products made from recycled content and separate at source.
As part of World Without Waste, Coca-Cola is also investing in new design, more collection of waste, and sustainable partnerships.
In terms of design, the company is reimagining its consumer packaging to make it better for our planet by making it 100% recyclable globally by 2025.
“We have to start to design plastic products for re-use and recycling, we have to think about the implications of this for standards and certification, and ultimately for our regulatory environment,” Creecy said at the Plastics Colloquium.
Turning waste into worth
The World Without Waste campaign is proving to be a sustainable solution. So far in South Africa, Coca-Cola has collected the equivalent of 113% of the PET plastic bottles that the company put into the South African market in 2018.
Meanwhile, 866 schools participated in the campaign’s Schools’ Recycling Programme in 2018. The programme has educated more than 700,000 learners on recycling.
“An important consideration will at all times be how, over time, we reduce certain plastics from our value chain, particularly those we term single-use. We do need as a collective, to agree, that there is not enough demand to absorb all these articles in the recycling chain,” Creecy concluded.