10% increase in refillables can reduce ocean PET plastic pollution by 7.6 billion bottles

Oceana study finds that as many as 34 billion plastic bottles produced by the soft drink industry enter the ocean each year

Press Release Date: January 29, 2020

Location: New York


Oceana Web | email: webadmin@oceana.org | tel.: 202.000.0000

Oceana released a report finding 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 volume of soft drinks and water sold in refillable bottles by just 10% (in place of single-use throwaway PET bottles). It also estimates that between 20 billion and 34 billion plastic PET bottles produced and sold by the soft drink industry enter the ocean each year. The report, titled “Just one word: Refillables”, was announced at an investor event held at HSBC world headquarters.

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.

Refillables are bottles that companies sell to customers and then are returned, washed, refilled, and sold again. Customers return these bottles because they pay a deposit that is refunded to them upon returning the bottle. The bottles, made from both PET plastic and glass, are used 20 to 50 times. Until recently, refillables systems were the primary way beverage companies sold soft drinks around the world.

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, (lifecycle) analyses found that refillables save up to 40% of raw materials and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.”  

Anne Schroeer, lead author of Oceana’s report and a Senior Manager for Oceana, said, “Despite the industry’s focus on growing share for single-use throwaway bottles, the data shows that refillables continue to be a viable system that is better for the oceans and that the industry can easily grow. Refillable systems, while no longer popular in the United States, account for more than 30% of beverages sold in major markets including Germany, Mexico, the Philippines, and Indonesia.” 

If a bottle is thrown away, that bottle may still end up in the ocean – no matter how much recycled content it has in it. Recycling is not magic. The way to reduce PET plastic bottle marine pollution is to produce and sell fewer single-use throwaway bottles, added Matt Littlejohn, Senior Vice President for Oceana.

According to International Coastal Clean-up data analyzed by Oceana, plastic bottles were the most commonly found plastic items in beach clean-ups worldwide when measured by weight. Additionally, beach surveys in 51 countries conducted by members of the Break Free from Plastic Coalition identified soft drink company bottles as the first and third most commonly found branded items among ocean plastic pollution collected.

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