The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Keurig Dr Pepper are pledging to improve recycling efforts in the United States.

By Jelisa Castrodale
October 30, 2019

On Tuesday, three of the biggest names in the beverage industry pledged to work together on an ambitious sustainability initiative, one that largely focuses on their own plastic bottles. At a joint press conference, The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper, and PepsiCo announced the launch of Every Bottle Back, a program that hopes to address—and significantly improve—the amount of plastic waste in the United States.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said that there are four key components to its Every Bottle Back initiative, including reducing the use of new plastic in the United States, investing $100 million to improve the sorting, processing, and collection of plastic bottles, and reminding consumers that their polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles are 100 percent recyclable and that recycled bottles are a thing.

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

"We're proud to come together with our competitors to address the serious issue of plastic waste in our environment," Jim Dinkins, the president of Coca-Cola North America, said. "We know we cannot do this alone and, in order to meet our goals and those of our industry, we need to work in partnership to drive collective action to ensure our bottles have second, third and fourth lives through continued recycling and re-use."

Through the Every Bottle Back program, the Big Trio will also work with a nationwide environmental nonprofit called The Recycling Program in order to improve the collection, sorting, and processing of plastic bottles, especially in parts of the country where there is a "favorable concentration" of facilities that can process PET bottles into PET pellets that can be reused to make new products.

The Recycling Program also plans to reach out to local recycling programs to provide better (read: larger-lidded) recycling carts, and to help them educate their communities about what can and can't be recycled.

"Plastic pollution is a serious problem and a serious threat to our planet's oceans, rivers, and streams. At The Recycling Partnership, we believe that everyone who is part of the recycling system is responsible for fixing the recycling system," the organization wrote on its website. "Part of the solution is making sure that we do everything we can to capture and keep as many quality recyclable materials as possible out of the landfill and put them back into the recycling system—and that includes recycled PET bottles."

According to the American Beverage Association—the industry trade group that organized this initiative—the recycled PET bottles can either be used to make more beverage bottles, or they'll be remade into everything from coats and shoes to park benches and playground equipment.

"Our bottles are unique because they were designed to be used again and remade into something new, and not end up in oceans, rivers, beaches and landfills," the group said, which is somewhat ironic, considering that's where many bottles end up.

Earlier this month, the global Break Free From Plastic movement released its annual audit of the world's "top corporate plastic polluters," and... you already know where this is going, don't you? More than 72,500 people in 51 countries took part in a one-day cleanup effort, picking up some 476,423 pieces of plastic waste. Forty-three percent of that plastic had an identifiable brand name on it and, for the second straight year, the largest amount of plastic trash—11,732 pieces, worldwide—came from Coca-Cola products. (In North America, the three most-picked up brands were Nestle, Solo Cup/Dart Container Company, and Starbucks).

"Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans—or anywhere that it doesn't belong—is unacceptable to us," Coca-Cola said in a statement. "In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution."

Hopefully, programs like Every Bottle Back really can make a significant impact on the amount of plastic waste—and hopefully, next year's numbers will show a significant improvement.

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