More pressure mounts on Coca-Cola’s COP27 sponsorship

GLOBAL – US environmental organizations Just Zero and Beyond Plastics are calling on the UN to drop Coca-Cola as a sponsor for its upcoming COP27 climate talks over plastics concerns, arguing the material has become “the new coal” and warrants a major response.

Critics have raised over 235,000 signatures in an online petition to prevent “corporate infiltration” of the event, with the conference, set for 6th-18th November, will be held in Egypt.

The two organizations say that the beverage manufacturer’s role in the event is undermining the global fight against climate change and is at odds with efforts to bring down emissions.

“COP 27 is supposed to focus on solutions for fighting the catastrophic climate crisis,” said Judith Enck, who heads Beyond Plastics and previously served as an Obama-era EPA regional administrator. “Instead, we’re allowing it to be a stage for corporate greenwashing.”

She was joined in her remarks by Just Zero State Policy Director Peter Blair, who said the company’s sponsorship of COP 27 “makes it hard to see this meeting as anything more than a performative act.”

Other corporate sponsors for COP 27 include Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., Boston Consulting Group Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC.

Coca-Cola has drawn ire from anti-plastics groups who have long targeted the global beverage manufacturing force over plastics, a fossil fuel product.

They have pushed back hard on Coca-Cola’s role as a sponsor for this year’s COP event, noting not only the realities of plastics production but also the mounting environmental crisis associated with pollution and dismal recycling numbers.

In addition, advocates have cited a 2021 report from Beyond Plastics and Bennington College in Vermont that found plastics are poised to overtake coal as a driver of climate emissions within a decade.

Coca-Cola has repeatedly emphasized its recycling commitments and investments, which include plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and heavily combat marine debris.

Despite its efforts, an annual audit of corporate brands by Break Free From Plastic, an international coalition, has notably named Coca-Cola “the world’s top plastic polluter” for four years running.

Critics charge that its pollution footprint speaks for itself. Coca-Cola has said that it is responsible for around 3 million metric tons of plastic packaging, an inevitable waste product. Such numbers, advocates argue, should disqualify the company from COP 27 sponsorship.

“By pouring millions of dollars into sponsoring COP 27, Coca-Cola is making a shameful play to give the appearance of environmental responsibility,” added 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.”

The comments from Just Zero and Beyond Plastics compound earlier complaints from groups including Greenpeace, who have argued the company’s presence at COP 27 is “greenwashing.”

The push coincides with the release of a major new report on recycling from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which does significant work on plastics issues.

In its 2022 progress report, the organization found that “strong progress” is being made in some areas but that a number of companies are not on track to completely implement reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.

Produced with the U.N. Environment Programme, the findings underscore just how challenging it is for companies to meet plastics recycling metrics.

Flexible packaging, like sachets and films, are particularly burdensome, given that they are not accepted by most recycling facilities and easily find their way into the environment as contaminants.

Coca-Cola is one of the companies participating in the annual report, which shows the company actually increased the amount of plastic it has produced since signing on in 2018.

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