2019 has been a big year for both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola companies in regards to their commitment to sustainability.
In June 2019, PepsiCo announced that they will be phasing out plastic bottles, even for products such as still water, in favor of aluminum cans in the United States as early as next year. “Tackling plastic waste is one of my top priorities and I take this challenge personally,” PepsiCo(PEP) CEO Ramon Laguarta said in a statement captured by CNN.
Aluminum cans have a higher recycling rate (they are the most recycled material) and contain more recycled content than other packaging types such as glass or plastic. Aluminum is also far more valuable than glass or plastic, meaning municipal recycling programs can be financially viable and effectively subsidize the recycling of less valuable materials in the bin.
With all of these news reports and 60 second documentaries focused on the innovations surrounding the plastics industry, has anyone stopped to think that our attention is being pulled in the wrong direction? Plastics are our past, not our future and it’s clear that big companies like Pepsi and Coke are aware of the impact they can make by divesting in the plastics industry. But how did they get here and why?
The Plastics Lobby
According to reps from both PepsiCo and Coca Cola, the companies first joined the Plastics Industry Association to learn about material innovation. Which we have seen examples of, mediocre as they may be, being rolled out over the years, such as- smaller cap sizes, smaller labels, new designs using less plastic or the resurgence of recycled plastic bottles.
It is important to note that the Plastics Industry Association has direct ties to the American Progressive Bag Alliance. You may be thinking “progressive bags! I’m totally on board with that!” However, the name is woefully misleading. The American Progressive Bag Alliance encourages states to make plastic bag bans illegal. While companies like PepsiCo and Coca Cola do not participate in the policy advocacy work, they do acknowledge that this work is counter intuitive to their ultimate goal to achieve a circular economy for plastics.
All in all, most people agree that it was not the moral compass of these companies that led them to the decision to ditch the PIA. Greenpeace, Sierra Club, As You Sow, and many others were behind the campaign to urge companies to reject the Plastics Industry Association’s secretive lobbying against plastic bans.