'Coca-Cola's 100 Billion Bottle Problem' The Most Shocking Facts & Revelations From Panorama's Exposé of Coke's Worldwide Plastic Bottle Wastage Issue

'Coca-Cola's 100 Billion Bottle Problem' The Most Shocking Facts & Revelations From Panorama's Exposé of Coke's Worldwide Plastic Bottle Wastage Issue

BBC’s show Panorama, a show that has been running since the 1950’s, has always been great at taking a brief but in-depth dive into topical subjects. This year alone, the show has explored a range of topics from the Coronavirus and vaccines to the Paralympic games. On the 25th October, a particular episode caught our eye… 

Coca-Cola’s 100 Billion Bottle Problem

Anyone who’s familiar with the products we sell here at Buddy State know that we are all about providing people with tasty beverages that reduce plastic waste through our packaging. Our goal has always been to phase out plastic bottles as much as possible. That’s why this episode caught our eye and really put into context the damage that plastic bottles are having on people and the planet. Here are the most shocking facts and details that came from Panorama’s look at Coke’s plastic bottle problem. 

Coca-Cola produce over 100 billion plastic bottles every year.

That’s about as many galaxies as astronomers estimate are in our universe. Thing is, that’s not even the half of it. Coke make up roughly a quarter of the 470 billion plastic bottles that are produced each year in the soft drink industry. It’s a difficult number to wrap your head around and also got us thinking about how much plastic was being used. So, we decided to conduct a little home experiment to find that out. We weighed an empty 500ml plastic bottle (which we recycled after of course!) and found that it weighed 26g. What’s 26g x 470 billion? 12.22 billion kilograms of plastic. That weighs approximately the same amount as 230 Titanic ships would. It’s a devastating amount of plastic that’s being produced each year…

…Unless it was all being recycled and re-used right? 

In 2020, of the 112 billion plastic bottles that Coca-Cola produced, 49 billion weren’t recycled. 

Overall, only 56% of Coke’s plastic bottles made it to a recycling centre. Part of the problem is that Coke sells its products in under-developed countries where there is a lack of recycling infrastructure and plastic waste is left to pile up. Part of the Panorama episode focused on Samoa, a pacific island with a population of just over 200,000 people. Up until February 2021, Coke was exclusively consumed in glass bottles until the company decided to replace them all with PET plastic. Given the small population in Samoa, they are unable to have their own recycling plant which means that plastic waste is collected without an avenue to reuse it. The bottom line is given to us straight - no plastic has ever left Samoa.  

However, recycling remains a problem across developed countries also. Even though there is a greater recycling capability, for lots of countries across North America, Asia and Europe, there isn’t sufficient collection of plastic recyclables. In relation to this issue, Dominic Hogg (one of the interviewed experts on the matter) explains, ‘we cannot recycle our way out of the problem.’ Whether the packaging is recyclable or not, it’s still ending up in the environment. It’s a depressing reality and reason why there should be a focus on reducing plastic whilst the proper system to collect recyclable plastic is put in place.     

In Uganda, 7-year-olds work all day collecting used plastic bottles to provide for their families.

As the focus of the episode turns to Uganda’s struggle with collecting plastic recyclables, an interview is conducted with a seven-year-old boy. The boy does not go to school; instead, he works all day, seven days a week in swampy mountains of rotting food, used diapers, and plastic waste, collecting plastic bottles to then sell to recycling ‘middlemen’. At a rate of 4p a kilo, the boy is only ever able to collect three kilos each day. The money he earns, he then gives to his mother. It’s a harsh existence and a product of the lack of recycling capabilities across the world but particular in developing countries. 

These ‘waste pickers’ as they are referred to in the programme, are also helping prevent health issues that are caused by other methods of disposing plastic waste. Without the ability to recycle all the plastic, some of the Ugandan people resort to burning it. Burning plastic releases all sorts of harmful toxins that if inhaled can damage the tissues in our body. As an interviewed Ugandan doctor describes, the burning of plastic has a direct link to health problems regarding the lungs. In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, the number of cases of lung cancer is rising. 

During the time we’d spent watching the episode, Coke had produced 6 million plastic bottles.

Towards the end of the episode, the narrator lets you know that whilst you’ve been watching the programme, Coke has produced 6 million plastic bottles, 2.5 million of which won’t be recycled. It’s a stark reminder that the problem is ever-growing until a change is made. 

We implore all of you who are reading this article to go watch this episode of Panorama. It’s important that we understand the damage we are doing when we buy plastic bottles until an actual solution has been put in place to recycle and reuse them. Thank you to the people behind Panorama for doing a wonderful job and giving us an insight into the world’s plastic bottle problem. 

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