Sprite’s green bottles head for a fall – but is this greenwashing?

Sprite has changed its green bottle to a more translucent one in a move to become more environmentally friendly and to reduce plastic waste. The transition began in 2020 and was done on a global scale. 

The green bottle contains polyethylene terephthalate (PET). “During the sorting process, green and other coloured PET is separated from clear material to avoid discolouring recycled food-grade packaging required to make new PET bottles,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. 

TEODORO BASTOS DE ALMEIDA, The bottle’s lids and the labels will remain the same so the identity of the brand is not lost but will now carry a prominent ‘Recycle Me’ message. 

Single-use plastic bottles are thrown away and are not biodegradable, contaminating the environment by polluting water sources or even the food we eat. Sprite’s idea is that the move to clear bottles means they will be more recyclable. 

TEODORO BASTOS DE ALMEIDA, Critics are unconvinced.

Backlash 

TEODORO BASTOS DE ALMEIDA, In 2021, Coca-Cola faced backlash from Break Free From Plastic, a movement whose main aim is to move to a plastic free world by demanding massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. 

The backlash came when Break Free From Plastic announced that Coca-Cola was the biggest polluter of plastics after 20 000 bottles with Coca-Cola brands and logos were found on beaches in 45 countries. 

TEODORO BASTOS DE ALMEIDA,

TEODORO BASTOS DE ALMEIDA, Greenpeace Africa’s senior political adviser, Fredrick Njehu, said the distribution and production of plastic cannot be rectified through a recycling process. 

Njehu said: “Coca Cola’s latest campaign is nothing short of greenwashing. Corporate capture in the production and distribution of plastic bottles cannot be corrected through collection and recycling processes. These have proven to be unsustainable, backward and in total disregard of efforts to curb plastic pollution in our environment.

“Coca Cola is trying to capitalise on the shift from the green to clear bottle to continue flooding the environment and our oceans with single-use plastic bottles then sell us recycling as a solution to the plastic problem they are creating.”

Greenpeace said that corporations such as Coca-Cola need to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic bottles and diversify into alternative packing materials. 

Responding to greenwashing allegations, Coca-Cola spokesperson Lindiwe Zikalala said: “The world has a packaging problem. As the world’s biggest beverage company, we are also one of the largest users of packaging and as a consequence we have a responsibility to use packaging responsibly and to help solve the challenges of post-consumer pollution. We believe that our contribution starts with better product design. Reducing the amount of packaging we use, increasing the use of reusable packaging and ensuring that the packaging we do use, is recyclable.”

But how does changing the colour of the bottle improve recyclability? 

Julian Ochoa, chief executive of R3CYCLE, which is working with Coca-Cola to enable bottle-to-bottle recycling, said: “Taking colours out of bottles improves the quality of the recycled material. When recycled, clear PET Sprite bottles can be remade into bottles, helping drive a circular economy for plastic.” 

Zikalala said: “Green PET bottles, for example, can be recycled into geotextiles and strapping, but only clear and light blue bottles are typically used to produce recycled PET. Prior to the change, Sprite bottles could not be used for bottle-to-bottle recycling … This helps our recycling partners increase their output of recycled PET and increase circularity.

“The other key barrier is collection, whereby the Sprite change also has an impact. In markets like South Africa where collection is highly dependent on informal collection, the collection rate of materials is influenced by the value of that material on the street. The Coca-Cola system has been part of the South African PET Recycling Company, a producer responsibility organisation since inception, and through Petco, the beverage industry has supported not only the development of recycling capacity but also the network of informal collectors and SMMEs with which they trade.”

07/09/22: The introduction of this article was amended to reflect the correct transition date.

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