Coca-Cola and “Bottle Bill Hesitancy”

November 4, 2019

By Guy Crittenden

Coca Cola is the world's largest polluter, at least in terms of plastic litter, according to a recent shoreline waste study.

A term has entered the culture that I find amusing as well as a bit disturbing: "vaccine hesitancy." The term refers to a state of mind in which some people find themselves after researching vaccine safety, not knowing what to do. I thought of that term when I learned certain major soft drink producers appear unwilling to implement deposit-refund systems for their used container packaging, even though it's the best choice for the environment.

We could call this "bottle bill hesitancy" on the part of these producers.

A recent article in The Intercept deconstructs a rather awkward recorded conversation in which stakeholders in Atlanta discuss a financial contribution Coca-Cola offered to the city to help with waste diversion and recycling. The discussion was strained because those present noted the company wouldn't offer the funds if, at the same time, government officials pushed for a so-called "bottle bill."

The term "bottle bill" refers to regulations that require soft drinks (soda) to be sold with a deposit on the containers. This creates costs and administrative headaches for brand owners, who have to figure out reverse-distribution logistics to recover the containers for recycling, either in return-to-retail or return-to-depot schemes. But bottle bills help municipalities and companies achieve much higher return and recovery rates than programs that rely solely on people's commitment to recycling. Bottle bill jurisdictions typically achieve waste diversion and recycling rates for used soda and certain other beverage containers in excess of 60 per cent, with levels above 80 or 90 per cent possible. Jurisdictions that rely exclusively on curbside recycling without deposits often languish around the 25 per cent mark for these containers, though results vary from place to place.

This photo taken on May 19, 2018, shows plastic waste on the beach of Freedom Island, part of Las Piñas–Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area near Manila, Philippines. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images (Reproduced from The Intercept website.)

The benefit of assigning an economic value to a packaging material in order to increase its recycling rate has been understood for decades. Maybe it's time for companies like Coca Cola to sprinkle less feel-good money around ineffective programs and start backing calls for a national deposit-refund system that would keep much more plastic and other waste out of oceans and beaches. A waste audit recently revealed Coca Cola to be the world's biggest polluter, at least in terms of litter. With bans being proposed on single-use plastic by certain countries, the writing is on the wall for business-as-usual scenarios.


Guy Crittenden: 
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at