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.
Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.
The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.
Climate change has been called the biggest challenge of our time. Last year, scientists with the United Nations said we basically have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5ºC to avoid planetary catastrophe.
Amid a backdrop of rising global carbon emissions, there's a real case for pessimism. However, many scientists are hopeful of a way out.
By Andrea Germanos
Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.
President Donald Trump has once again contradicted the findings of the U.S. government when it comes to the threat posed by climate change. Days after a Department of Defense report outlined how climate-related events like wildfires and flooding put U.S. military installations at risk, Trump took to Twitter to mock the idea that the world could be getting warmer, Time reported.
Trump's tweet came in response to a massive winter storm that blanketed the Midwest and Northeast this weekend.
By Jason Bittel
Formidable predators stalk the forests between Panama and northern Argentina. They are sometimes heard but never seen. They are small but feisty and have even been documented trying to take down a tapir, which can top out at nearly 400 pounds. Chupacabras? No.
By Rhea Suh
One month on, the longest and most senseless U.S. government shutdown in history is taking a grave and growing toll on the environment and public health.
Food inspectors have been idled or are working without pay, increasing the risk we'll get sick from eating produce, meat and poultry that isn't properly checked. National parks and public wilderness lands are overrun by vandals, overtaken by off-road joyriders, and overflowing with trash. Federal testing of air and water quality, as well as monitoring of pollution levels from factories, incinerators and other sources, is on hold or sharply curtailed. Citizen input on critical environmental issues is being hindered. Vital research and data collection are being sidelined.