Soft drink industry can stop billions of plastic bottles from polluting the ocean by switching from single-use, throwaway bottles to refillables

Soft drink industry can stop billions of plastic bottles from polluting the ocean by switching from single-use, throwaway bottles to refillables

February 5, 2020
Marcia González

Oceana study finds that as many as 34 billion plastic bottles produced by soft drink industry enter the ocean each year; just a 10% increase in refillables can reduce ocean PET plastic pollution by up to 7.6 billion bottles

Oceana, one of the largest international advocacy organizations dedicated solely to ocean conservation, released a report last week that found that the beverage industry could decrease marine plastic pollution by 4.5 billion to 7.6 billion bottles each year, a 22% decrease, by increasing the market share of soft drinks and water sold in refillable bottles by just 10% (in place of single-use throwaway PET bottles).

The report, entitled Just one word: Refillables. How the soft drink industry can reduce marine plastic pollution by billions of bottles each year, also estimates that between 20 billion and 34 billion plastic PET bottles produced and sold by the soft drink or Non-Alcoholic Ready to Drink (NARTD) industry enter the ocean each year.

“Beverage companies are major ocean polluters and are producing billions of plastic bottles every year that end up in the sea essentially forever,” said Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless. “They need to take responsibility and make commitments to reduce plastic production and waste.”

The report was announced at investor and media briefings held at HSBC USA headquarters in New York. Attendees also heard about HSBC Global Research reports detailing how prominent bottlers in Latin America are leading the trend toward refillables.

“As public awareness of plastic waste in the world’s oceans grows, the global beverage industry is grappling with the risk of brand damage and higher regulatory costs from its outsized reliance on disposable plastic bottles,” said Carlos Laboy, global beverage head and Latin American Food Analyst, HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. “Oceana’s report brings much-needed insight into the scale of the environmental problem and an emerging solution in a transition to refillables.”

The report notes that studies have found that refillable bottles have a lower carbon footprint than single-use throwaway plastic bottles, citing recent life-cycle analysis studies in Germany and Chile.  Dr Henning Wilts of the Wuppertal Institute writes in the report that “looking at the specific case of refillable PET bottles as compared to single-use bottles, (life-cycle) analyses found that refillables save up to 40% of raw materials and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions”.

Recycling rates are declining in the US, and only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, Oceana’s report notes. In addition, single-use throwaway bottles with recycled content still become pollution in the ocean because the companies don’t recover these bottles after selling them. In contrast, 95-99% of refillables are returned to beverage companies for re-use.

Studies have found that plastic pollution is dramatically impacting life in the oceans. A recent report found that 90% of all seabird species have ingested plastic, and even zooplankton – the base of the food chain – has been found to be ingesting plastic. Oceana is campaigning around the world to reduce throwaway plastic production and address this problem at its source.

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 will take place at Cologne Messe, Germany, on Tuesday 16 June and Wednesday 17 June. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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