April Crow is our senior director of environment and sustainability at The Coca-Cola Company. Here she explains how we're working with charities and organisations around the world to help tackle the issue of marine litter, and other global habits negatively impacting our oceans. 

If you’ve been on a beach or in the ocean, unfortunately you’ve probably seen some form of litter. The alarming amount of debris in our oceans is increasing and having detrimental impacts. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our world’s oceans. This statistic is stunning and depicts a future we hope not to experience.

"The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our world’s oceans."

That’s why, for several decades now, we’ve been supporting and advancing recycling programmes inside and outside our business, recovering packages for reuse, building consumer awareness campaigns and stewarding partnerships that protect and clean up our oceans and waterways (read about some of our recycling programmes and sustainable packaging innovations in Great Britain). But when you see a piece of journalism as powerful as CNN’s recent story on Midway Island, you know there is much more work to do, and that it will take everyone working collectively to make a difference.

Rolling up our sleeves and pitching in to eliminate marine waste

On 1st December, CNN released an exclusive digital documentary titled, “Plastic island: How our throwaway culture is turning paradise into a graveyard,” which explored the damage plastic litter is doing to our oceans - and potentially to our health.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh and team traveled to Midway Island in the North Pacific Ocean, the devastating frontline in the world’s fight against discarded plastic. There, the journalists reported on and showed the amount of plastic collecting on the beaches (from toothbrushes to flip flops to mannequin heads and bottles, among other items), swimming in the North Pacific Gyre, and having damaging effects on wildlife. They also demonstrated a growing concern about how the plastics from our oceans could be landing on our plates.

The thoughtful and powerful documentary illustrates the marine debris issue and elevates the need for action to protect our oceans, wildlife and food chain. In a growing and demanding world that uses plastic multiple times daily and in so many ways, solving the ocean waste issue won’t be easy. At Coca-Cola, we share concerns about ocean debris, especially the concentration appearing in the North Pacific Gyre, and we believe it will take everyone’s efforts - from individuals, to governments, to businesses in the private sector, including ours - to eliminate marine litter.

How, as a global community, can we reduce plastic pollution in our oceans?

While recycling is an obvious solution, it’s a solution that requires efficient and well-supported public recycling systems and an increasing number of people willing to recycle at home, at work and while on the go.

Companies can help by joining The Recycling Partnership, which aims to make recycling easier, creating public-private partnerships to improve recycling at the local level. Individuals and larger groups can recover debris through coordinated cleanups. We’d love to hear other recommendations for inspiring more people to recycle in the comments section of this piece (see below).

Algalita, a California-based nonprofit, studies the impact of marine debris on the environment and human health.

While recycling of materials is an important action area, a recent study by Ocean Conservancy suggests land-based solutions for plastic waste in the ocean, starting with the elimination of plastic waste leakage in five priority countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand).

All countries where economies are growing faster than the necessary waste management infrastructure, often resulting in the mismanagement of the waste. Their data suggest that addressing the challenge in these five countries could reduce the flow of waste into the ocean by approximately 45% in the next 10 years. Understanding the source and causes is important as we work collectively to try to tackle this problem.

"Addressing the challenge in these five countries could reduce the flow of waste into the ocean by approximately 45% in the next 10 years."

Globally, we all need to work toward embracing a circular economy, where people, institutions and businesses work together to reduce, redesign, recover, recycle and reuse packaging. A truly sustainable circular economy would require a wide range of actions, including engaging consumers, advocating for needed policy changes, building supply chain partnerships, developing material and waste management technologies and more. At Coca-Cola, we want to be part of this solution.

For many years we have been working with organisations such as Ocean Conservancy and more recently The Ellen MacArthur Foundation to find solutions to this and other litter problems. Each year, we sponsor the International Coastal Cleanup, the largest single-day volunteer event that helps clean the world’s waterways, as one action aimed at preventing litter from reaching the oceans.

We also are working with many of our partners to help make recycling easier for everyone and to promote the use of plastic bottles made of materials that are 100% recyclable. In addition, we’ve set a goal to recover the equivalent of 75% of the bottles and cans we place into developed markets by 2020. Today, we are helping or supporting the recovery of about 59% globally.

We know we still have more to do, but we are optimistic about the impact our actions can have and the role we can all play to address marine litter. While a significant challenge, we have to believe it’s possible to overcome.

Find out how we're fighting waste with sustainable packaging.

April Crow is senior director of environment and sustainability at The Coca-Cola Company.