Earlier reports from Sky News revealed that Coca-Cola was opposed to the deposit-return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles that was proposed for Scotland, but the firm has now unexpectedly backed down and has come out in favour of the new scheme.
The scheme, which aims to increase the number of plastic bottles that are reused and recycled, would require consumers to pay a deposit of around 10p per bottle. This sum would be repaid to the customer when the empty item was returned to the retailer. Similar schemes already operating in Sweden and Germany have increased plastic recycling rates considerably.
Coca-Cola’s change of heart occurred following the publication of one of their internal documents by Sky News. This clearly outlined the company’s opposition to the introduction of a deposit-return scheme in Scotland. As a Greenpeace representative, Willie MacKenzie, told Sky News, although the drinks company wanted to be seen in a positive light, they were trying to change as little as possible and to maintain their current position. It is possible that their more recent announcement in favour of the new DRS has come as a result of trends on the continent and growing public pressure. The firm had been accused by environmental campaigners of being resistant to the scheme because it would involve increased logistics and costs.
Following Coca-Cola’s surprise announcement, more beverage companies, particularly their smaller competitors, are expected to follow their lead. Unilever, Pepsi, M&S and Nestlé have already implemented plans to use less plastic or more plant based materials in their bottle production, thus making them more eco-friendly.
In addition to stating that there had been a change in position, Coca-Cola also highlighted the progress it had already made towards improving the sustainability of the packaging it used. Although plastic recycling rates still need improvement, over recent years Coca-Cola has made all its cans totally recyclable. The company also pointed out that it had made its packs as light as they could be, by reducing the amount of material used in their manufacture. By 2020, Coca-Cola aims to increase the amount of material in their plastic bottles that can be recycled from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.
Following consultations with its UK consumers, Coca-Cola has discovered that almost two-thirds of them would be in favour of introducing a deposit-return scheme. Fifty-one per cent felt that this would be likely to encourage them to recycle. This year, the company has also entered a consultation with policy-makers, NGOs and expert organisations, to review its packaging strategy with regard to sustainability.
Plastic waste recycling not only reduces landfill, but it can also make economic sense for the companies involved. By reducing the need to buy such large amounts of virgin raw materials, businesses will save money, and reduced waste disposal costs will benefit both households and companies. Litter may also be reduced, where bottles carry a deposit and are more likely to be returned. As well as having environmental benefits, this also saves local authority expenditure.
Deposit return schemes also benefit councils, by saving them vast amounts of the revenue currently spent on waste collection.