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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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.