Despite setting some major sustainability goals, the company cites consumer preference and environmental factors for its continued plastic use.

Last October, the Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper, and PepsiCo announced the launch of Every Bottle Back, a program that the three companies will use to address the amount of plastic waste in the United States. Their joint initiative will rely on several key components, including reducing the use of new plastic, investing in ways to improve the sorting, processing, and collection of plastic bottles, and reminding customers that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic soda bottles are recyclable. 

Earlier this week, Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's head of sustainability, said that the soda giant has pledged to use at least 50-percent recycled material in its plastic packaging by 2030, and she also said that it will recycle as many bottles as it uses within the next 10 years. (Coke made that particular pledge back in 2018 too.) 

A Coca-Cola bottling plant
Credit: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

But—and this is a big but—Perez admitted that the company has no plans to stop using single-use plastic bottles entirely. She told the BBC that customers want those bottles, because they're lightweight and they can be resealed after being opened. Perez also said that switching to aluminum or glass bottles could increase the company's carbon footprint (presumably because of the extra weight to transport glass bottles, and the energy that would be required to clean them if they were to be reused). 

"Business won't be in business if we don't accommodate consumers," she said. "So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us."

According to Perez, Coca-Cola will continue to partner with non-government organizations (NGOs) to find ways to improve worldwide collection of plastic bottles, which sounds similar to what the company is trying to accomplish with Every Bottle Back in the U.S.  

As it stands, there are a lot of bottles to collect: last March, Coca-Cola revealed that it uses three million tons of plastic packaging every year, which is the equivalent of 200,000 bottles every minute. (Or as the BBC puts it, it's roughly 15,000 blue whales worth of plastic). 

For two straight years, the global Break Free From Plastic movement named Coca-Cola as the world's "top corporate plastic polluter." In its annual audit of the 476,423 pieces of plastic waste that were collected in a one-day worldwide cleanup effort and the largest amount of that trash (11,732 pieces worldwide) came from assorted Coca-Cola products. 

It sounds like Coca-Cola has a lot to figure out—and they only have 9 years, 11 months and 10 days to do it.