Climate activists are criticising the organisers’ choice to have the notorious brand as a COP27 sponsor. The company, infamously known for its elevated plastic use, was found to have increased plastic use even further ahead of the year’s most crucial climate summit.

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest non-alcoholic beverage company, has increased its plastic use by 3.5% since 2019, new research from Ellen MacArthur Foundation found. The company sells its products in more than 200 countries and territories and had a revenue of over US$10 billion last year. 

The newly released data sparked calls among environmentalist groups, including Just Zero and Beyond Plastics, to kick Coca-Cola out as a sponsor of COP27, the year’s most important climate summit set to begin on Sunday. 

To justify their decisions, the conference’s organisers cited Coca-Cola’s efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions, applauding the brand for its plan to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050. This, however, does not make up for the fact that, in 2021 alone, the company produced nearly 3 million metric tonnes of plastic packaging while decreasing its reusable plastic packaging by 1.3% from the previous year.

“COP 27 is supposed to focus on solutions for fighting the catastrophic climate crisis,” said Judith Enck, head of Beyond Plastics. “Instead, we’re allowing it to be a stage for corporate greenwashing.”

Plastic is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our lifetime. Every year, the world generates around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste and more than 8 million tonnes make their way into ocean waters. It is estimated that roughly 40% of the ocean’s surface today is covered in plastic debris and, if our plastic consumption rates do not drop drastically, scientists warn that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean as soon as 2030.

“By pouring millions of dollars into sponsoring COP 27, Coca-Cola is making a shameful play to give the appearance of environmental responsibility,” said Just Zero State Policy Director Peter Blair. “But behind the scenes, Coca-Cola’s lobbyists campaign to block improvements in real recycling and resist calls to transition away from single-use plastic bottles to reusable and refillable glass containers.”

Coca-Cola is not the only brand to increase its non-recycled plastic use last year. According to data from Ellen MacArthur Foundation, PepsiCo and Walmart were also among the culprits. 

Yet, while several of these companies have sustainable initiatives and campaigns in place, promising innovation in the direction of less plastic use and greater reusability and recyclability, the beverage industry still heavily relies on single-use plastic and is a major player in plastic pollution worldwide.

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