Egypt: Coca-Cola accused of greenwashing

Activists are calling on the United Nations to remove The Coca-Cola Company as a sponsor of COP27, the United Nations global climate summit that started last Sunday in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. The activists accused the company of greenwashing.

"This is greenwashing from Coca-Cola, plain and simple, all whilst they fill the ocean with plastic pollution and emit huge volumes of carbon by using virgin oil in their production of plastic packaging," said Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy for UK-based ocean activists, Surfers Against Sewage

Georgia Elliott-Smith, another climate and sustainability activist, wrote yesterday an open letter to António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, and Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, on behalf of 235,000 people who have signed a petition to remove The Coca-Cola Company as sponsors of COP27.

The letter states that

  1. “Coca-Cola produces by far the largest volume of plastic of any company globally – 2.9 million metric tonnes per year, equating to 200,000 single-use plastic bottles per minute.
  2. “For four years in a row, Coca Cola has been found to be the world’s top plastic polluter. The burden of cleaning up this waste is borne by society.
  3. “Coca Cola has a 30-year history of broken promises and abandoned pledges. In 1990, the company promised 25% recycled PET in their bottles – 32 years later the actual recycled content of their bottles is 10%.
  4. “Despite their pledge to reduce virgin plastic consumption by 20% compared to 2019 levels, data revealed this week shows they have actually increased virgin plastic consumption by 3.5% since 2019.
  5. “The company actively targets growing markets in developing economies with no formal waste management systems. CEO James Quincey said in 2019 that Africa is “one of the core growth engines for the company going forward”.
  6. “In 2018, Coca-Cola and Unilever acted to block a nationwide ban on plastic bottles in Kenya, implementing a self-regulated scheme, PETCO, in 2019 that has since failed to substantially increase recycling rates.
  7. “Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace demonstrate that Coca Cola spent close to 1 million euros lobbying the EU commission, actively fighting extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, increased collection and recycling schemes, the EU scheme for deposit systems, and refillable quotas.
  8. “There is evidence of further lobbying in Scotland and the United States as recently as 2021. In Australia, despite 80% of Australians being in favour of a national recycling refund scheme, Coca-Cola sued the Northern Territory Government to prevent the ‘Cash for Containers’ deposit return scheme.
  9. “Despite the enormous pollution created by single-use plastics, Coca Cola’s Senior Vice President and Chief Communications, Sustainability & Strategic Partnerships Officer, Bea Perez, said in 2020 at Davos that “Coca-Cola will not ditch single-use plastic bottles”.
  10. “Further, Coca Cola has a long history of activity contrary to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and UN treaties, for example:
    a. alleged global human rights abuses, including links to paramilitaries and the murder of union leaders in Guatemala and Columbia, and intimidation and torture of trade unionists and their families by special branch police in Turkey,
    b. preventing workers’ rights to organise in Nicaragua,
    c. depleting aquifers in arid regions of India resulting in suffering of communities,
    d. exerting control of water resources in Mexico,
    e. seeking to influence the WHO and lobbying against public health strategies and soda taxes in 14 countries including the UK, France, Israel, and Bosnia Herzegovina, and
    f. multiple examples of unethical marketing practices.“

Coca-Cola siad that its participation underscores its ambitious plans to cut its emissions and clean up plastic ocean trash. “We know that global challenges like plastic waste, water stewardship and climate change are far too great for any single government, company, or industry to solve individually,” Michael Goltzman, Global Vice President of Public Policy and Sustainability at The Coca-Cola Company said on September 28, when the sponsorship was signed. “COP27 gives us an opportunity to continue engaging with experts, nonprofits, industry, and governments to support actions toward sustainable change across our value chain.”

Following the furor over its COP 27 sponsorship, Coca-Cola stated, that “our support for COP27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25 per cent by 2030, and our ambition for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050" and it shares "the goal of eliminating waste from the ocean," and plans to "to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell" by 2030.  

However, Coca-Cola is only the pinnacle of a much broader problem. Only one third of all food and drinks companies achieved their own goal for reducing or recycling plastic packaging as revealed this week by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK-based charity committed to creating a circular economy. (, 4.11.2022)

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