Over the Christmas holiday, my family and I escaped unusually chilly Atlanta for the warm Miami sun. We love Miami. The beaches, the people, the culture, the food. It’s home.
One afternoon, while walking on the beach with my children, I spotted a plastic water bottle washing up on the shore. It bobbed up and down. It glistened.
It ruined my day.
As a 20-year veteran of The Coca-Cola Company, I’m so incredibly proud of the drinks we make and the people who make them. Every day, we help make life’s everyday moments more enjoyable for hundreds of millions of people.
For decades, our Company has worked to be a force for opportunity in the world. Whether it’s giving back to nature and communities an estimated 100% of the water we use in our final drinks (five years ahead of schedule) or empowering nearly two million women entrepreneurs, we take our responsibility to help make a better world seriously. It’s part of our business. It’s who we are and how we operate.
So when I see a bottle like that in the ocean, or on the side of the road, or anywhere but a recycling bin, it’s upsetting. As a mom, it makes me worry about my children’s future. About our oceans and marine life. About the choices we make.
It was all the more surprising because I know how hard Miami has worked to keep its beaches litter-free. There are now recycling bins all along the beach, and they have a robust cleanup program. Still, someone, somewhere didn’t take the time to recycle, so this bottle made its way onto a beautiful Miami beach where it doesn’t belong.
As the Chief Public Affairs, Communications, and Sustainability Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, I think a lot about this critical issue and trying to answer important questions.
How do we make our packaging as responsibly as possible? How do we help people better understand recycling? How do we work with local communities to make recycling more accessible? And how do we work with our peers and competitors to address this growing problem?
That’s why a plastic bottle making its way ashore bothered me so much. Because it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies like ours can be leaders. We can bring people together to help make the world’s packaging problem a thing of the past.
So we are.
Today, we’re announcing a bold, ambitious goal: to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030. Regardless of where it comes from, we want every package to have more than one life.
This is our vision for a World Without Waste.
Working to create a World Without Waste isn’t easy and involves many moving parts. Among them, companies have to do their part by making sure their packaging is actually recyclable. People have to do their part by actually recycling. And we all have to do whatever we can, no matter how big or small, to make sure packaging doesn’t end up where it doesn’t belong.
To achieve this, we’re reimagining the entire lifecycle of a package, from how it’s designed to how it’s made to where it ends up.
In 2009, we introduced PlantBottleTM packaging, a groundbreaking innovation made from up to 30% plant-based materials. For years, we’ve been working to make our packaging 100% recyclable. And you may have noticed some of our bottles are lighter than they used to be. While those are steps in the right direction, we don’t intend to stop there. We’re searching for new ways to make plastic more innovative and sustainable, and we are working to include more recycled material in our plastic bottles.
Making our bottles and cans more sustainable is only part of the answer. If something can be recycled, it should be recycled. So we want to help people everywhere understand how to do their part.
Our goal is to encourage more people to recycle more often. To do that, we aim to invest our marketing dollars and skills to help people understand what to recycle, how to recycle, and where to recycle. We believe in the circular economy, where plastic, glass, and aluminum are reused many times instead of being used once and thrown away. We want others to believe in it, too.
We also want to work with local communities, our competitors, and even our critics to help address this critical issue.
In Mexico, we’ve done just that.
Coca-Cola bottlers joined the Mexican plastics industry and others in 2002 to create Ecology and Corporate Commitment (ECOCE), a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging a culture of recycling. We also invested to help create the country’s two food-grade PET plastic recycling facilities, IMER and PetStar. Those investments have paid off. In 2016, Mexico recycled 57% of the PET plastic it produced (up from 9% in 2002), making it the leading country globally for recycling PET.
Importantly, we’re not starting from scratch. Since 1995, we’ve been the lead sponsor of the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of ocean health—Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Over the course of that partnership, we’ve helped mobilize 11 million people to clean up 206 million pounds of trash from over 360,000 miles of coastline.
No one company, organization, government, or person can solve this problem alone. Imagine if every company that sells packaging joined us on this journey. Imagine if we were all putting our expertise and resources into solving this problem. Imagine if we all worked to help keep packaging out of the places where it doesn’t belong.
There’s so much more we can do together.
Will you join us?
This content was written by and is brought to you by our sponsor, The Coca-Cola Company. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic or its editorial staff.