Plastic Pollution Is ‘Low Priority’ for Shoppers, Soft Drink Execs Tell Policy Officials
By Alice Ross
Coca-Cola, Lucozade Ribena, Danone and Nestle were among those invited to a soft drinks roundtable to discuss the problem of plastic bottle waste and recycling at Defra's headquarters in October.
They told officials: "The environmental impact of packaging was low on consumers' priorities when buying a soft drink," according to a note of the meeting obtained by Unearthed using Freedom of Information rules.
Plastic pollution, particularly single-use packaging such as drinks bottles, has come under increasing scrutiny in the past year after global concern at the amount of plastic entering the oceans: An estimated 15 million plastic drinks bottles are thrown away rather than recycled every day in the UK.
The screening of Blue Planet 2 this autumn, which included footage of turtles trapped in plastic debris and albatrosses feeding their young on plastics, has only increased the public concern around the issue.
This week environment secretary Michael Gove told reporters he had been inspired by Blue Planet 2 to tackle the issue and wanted to boost recycling rates, cut the amount of plastic in circulation and to make recycling easier by reducing the number of different types of plastic in common use.
Drinks company executives at the October roundtable meeting told officials, including waste minister Therese Coffey, that "environmentally-aware consumers like the idea of less plastic" but others "associate softer bottles with inferior quality."
They added that it "may be easier to address littering than attempt to educate consumers on materials."
The meeting was held under Chatham House rules, where no information is shared on who said what.
Consumers tend to say they do care about the environmental footprint of drinks packaging. In September, a YouGov survey for recycling company Veolia found that half of consumers (51 percent) would choose a new drink in a recyclable container over a familiar one in a non-recyclable container.
In 2015, 71 percent of respondents to a YouGov survey said they would back a small increase in the price of a plastic milk bottle if this ensured it was partly made of recycled plastics and would be recycled after use.
Gove is currently considering whether to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS), in which consumers are charged a small amount for the container their drink comes in, which is refunded when they return the bottle or can. In February Coca-Cola announced it now supports a DRS, after Unearthed revealed it had previously lobbied the Scottish government against it.
At the October meeting, some of the drinks companies said introducing the new system alongside existing curb side collections could be "confusing for consumers," who the companies suggested were "more interested in getting rid of the rubbish (convenience)" than in any financial reward.
The Marine Conservation Society's head of pollution, Dr. Laura Foster, said: "Responsible consumers, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly becoming aware that they don't want to see their products harming the environment ... Incentivising returning of beverage containers through DRS has been shown to be highly effective, with return rates of over 95% in countries where it has been introduced."
A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said the company supports DRS and has committed to double the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50 percent by 2020. "We will source this material from a recycling plant in Lincolnshire and by doing so make a significant contribution to the circular economy in this country."
She added: "No other soft drinks company is doing as much to make its packaging as sustainable as possible and you should ask other companies what their view on a DRS is, as their view may well differ to ours."
Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium, which was present at the meeting, said: "We know how much consumers dislike litter and want to work with the government and others to reduce it." But he said consumers prefer curb side collection, which is "already effective".
Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said: "As an industry, we are open to exploring whether a properly considered deposit return scheme could be a part of an overall solution and we are ready to work with government and others on this."
A Nestle spokeswoman told Unearthed: "We agree in principle that a well-designed deposit return scheme (DRS), that is simple and easy to use, could be part of a holistic solution to achieving higher collection and recycling rates."
The Scottish government plans to introduce the UK's first DRS scheme. "This is clearly new territory for everyone and we will offer our full support in the development and piloting of this scheme," the Nestle spokeswoman said.
A Danone spokeswoman said: "We don't comment on the details of what was discussed in the meeting. However, we would like to say that Danone supports efficient solutions that lower societal costs and incentivize packaging producers to increase the recycling and reuse of their packaging.
"We are ready to engage with stakeholders at local and global level to design the system (or combination of systems) that makes the most sense. We believe that a DRS has its place within the portfolio of possible systems for a given country, region or city."
Lucozade Ribena and Defra had not responded at the time of publication.
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People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>