Throughout December our elves wil be releasing stats and info about Coca-Cola

ELF ADVENT #25 - Coca-Cola and Pepsico are responsible for 25% of packaging pollution on UK beaches.

...And Cola, Pepsico, and McDonalds make up 40% of it.

As we wend our way to the end of our anti-advent, our calamitous cola calendar, we reflect upon the time of gifts that Christmas traditionally represents. What, after all, has Coca-Cola given us? Have they given us, to echo this year's slogan, "Real Magic"?

What Coca-Cola have given us, if the 25 facts we have printed up to here are anything to go by, is an unimaginably giant sack of plastic waste which is everywhere from the bottoms of the ocean to the cells of your body. They have shirked responsibility for it, lobbied against solutions to it as a problem, and consistently failed to work towards even targets that some other producers are now trying to meet, such as reductions in virgin plastics creation.

And if you'd like some evidence of this, why not take the Boxing Day stroll along a local beach. If you find some plastic there, there's a nearly even chance it's a dubious gift from Cola, Pepsico, or McDonalds.

(Image Bo Eide)

ELF ADVENT #24 - Even Coca-Cola’s drinks contain plastic.

Microplastics are in our bodies

You ever hear that Kinks song about the Plastic Man? "He's got plastic heart, plastic teeth and toes," sang Ray Davies. It turns out he was far-sighted. Our food, our water, our fizzy drinks - all have microplastics in them, and those microplastics enter our body. As is now much repeated: we ingest a credit card's worth of plastic every week.

One recent study looked at the levels of plastics in a number of drinks including Coke's Dasani mineral water. The authors reckon that the plastic comes from the bottles themselves.

What does this mean for the human body? There is no clear answer, as the research simply hasn't been done yet. The effect of microplastics in the body simply are not known - but we know the body is increasingly pervaded by them. With nanoplastics potentially even entering the very cells of your body, they may contribute to various inflammatory diseases like heart disease and bowel disease. Increasingly, research is showing that microplastic particles do accumulate in tissues and organs including lungs and placenta.

"He eats plastic food with a plastic knife and fork..." It turns out, more literally than we thought.

ELF ADVENT #23 - Bottle Return Schemes are Seen by Coke as a Threat

Cola lobbies hard against green initiatives

This came out clearly from investigations into Coke's lobbying of Scottish politicians, including the attempted lobbying of Nicola Sturgeon, in 2017. A leaked public policy risk assessment, bearing Coca-Cola Europe's logo, placed "refillable quotas", "increased collection and recycling targets", and "EU scheme for deposit systems" in a large bubble with the company policy regarding such initiatives.

So what is Cola's line on environmental policy? The words next to all of these eco initiatives clearly demonstrate the way Coke views the world - two simple words that show where they position themselves in the climate and ecological crisis - "FIGHT BACK".

You do wonder whether, from time to time, the Cola employees working on these things ever pause for a moment at the photocopier to think, are we perhaps the bad guys?

ELF ADVENT #22 - Coca-Cola greenwashes by funding anti-littering campaigns

These campaigns place the onus on the consumer

Keep America Beautiful receives large regular grants from Coca-Cola. It was begun as an anti-littering campaign in the 1950s. Funded by industry, slogans like “Don’t be a litterbug” had an insidious purpose. As one historian has unpacked the campaign:

The pitch was simple—don’t blame the industry for all this garbage lining the highways, parks, and nature. It’s on you, the customer. Yes, we made that bottle, but you bought it.

Keep America Beautiful still runs and still receives huge grants from Coke. Meanwhile, the company lobbies against container deposit schemes, as we'll see tomorrow, fails on recycling targets, and is tardy on moving towards reuse.

ELF ADVENT #21 - Coke is sad about their packaging ending up in the ocean

The company's feelings don't translate into policy, though

When Break Free From Plastic's audit called out Coca-Cola as the number one polluter in 2019, Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer at Coke, said she was "personally saddened by it".

Speaking with The Intercept, another Coke spokesperson (cokesperson?) said that “Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans — or anywhere that it doesn’t belong — is unacceptable to us.  In partnership withothers, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution.”

The thing is, turning off the tap on plastic waste is exactly what Coke are not doing. Year on year, they are creating more and more of it, while not meaningfully moving towards reuse. Given that 3% of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, it is sad they are so sad about something in their power to prevent.

ELF ADVENT #20 - Coca-Cola produces 37.5% more plastic per year than the whole world did in 1950

Over the span of a lifetime, our plastics production has exploded

In 1950, when plastic street lighting, bath accessories were novelties, and plastic cutlery was only just being mass produced for the first time, we made 2m tonnes of plastic worldwide. Now, in one year, Coca-Cola creates 3.2m tonnes of plastic waste. You can see more data about plastic pollution here.

(Chart from Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018) - "Plastic Pollution". Published online at OurWorldInData.org.)

ELF ADVENT #19 - Costing the Plastic Problem

An Industry Report Showed the True Cost of Plastic

The report, commissioned by a petrochemical trade group, showed that the cost of plastic’s damage to the world was north of an unthinkably huge number, $139bn. This is damage that, as a Rolling Stone reporter put it, is made up of “externalities — or the costs that companies don’t have to pay for, but instead slough off on society — including those created by “greenhouse-gasemissions; air pollution; land and water pollution; water depletion; [and]ocean impacts.””

ELF ADVENT #18 - Plastic Is Choking the World

We are stuck with all the plastic we’ve made, and we've made lots.

The estimated plastic production of the world by 2019 was 9.5bn tonnes. That is, more than a tonne per living person. Of that, only 9% has ever been recycled. Even plastic that is recycled degrades from use to use.

In 2021, the overall world production of virgin plastics (entirely new plastics) increased by 2.5%. This was largely down to the biggest companies increasing their production: Mars, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Mondelez.

ELF ADVENT #17 - The Slow Death of Plastics

Plastics emit greenhouse gases just by sitting there

Separating chemicals from fossil fuels creates tonnes of emissions, as we all know. And production, transportation, and incineration of plastics is extremely costly to the environment, as yesterday's fact described. But what about that cola bottle sitting there innocently on your colleague's desk, in a public bin, or at the bottom of the sea - now that it exists, it's pretty harmless, isn't it?

Well, no. Research by Dr. Sarah-Jeanne Royer has shown that plastics keep releasing greenhouse gases - methane, ethylene, carbon dioxide, etc. - when simply exposed to sunlight and air. Although the release rate is slow and the amount small, it is continual. The millions of tonnes of plastics lying in oceans, deserts, and landfill are a debt that we will still be paying many decades from now.

In fact, given that PET - that's plastic bottle plastic - takes up to 450 years to break down, it could still be the problem of your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandchildren.

ELF ADVENT #16 - Plastics Are Jeopardising Emissions Targets

They release greenhouse gases throughout the lifecycle

The production and incineration of plastic in 2019 was estimated to cause 850 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. But where does all of that come from?

Emissions begin with the process that separates olefin - the building block of plastic - from fossil fuels, mainly crude oil. Plastic production and transport naturally make up a large part of the overall percentage, too. Then there is the end of life - whether it's incineration, landfill, or recycling, all create more emission.

The rates currently “threaten the ability of the global community to meet carbon emissions targets”. Already, our addiction to plastic has been a major reason we will not meet the 1.5C cap on global warming. But emissions could, according to the study quoted above, keep rising and reach as high as 2.75bn metric tons per annum by 2050. This means we need drastic action.

And of course, as we have seen in our advent cola-calendar up to now, the Coca-Cola Company bears a huge part of this responsibility, as they are the biggest single producer of plastics and are still creating ever more virgin plastic.

(Image John Englart)

ELF ADVENT #15 - Martin Luther Once Boycotted Coke

It is one of King's most famous speeches, and it was also one of the last he ever made. In it, he says "I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man!" The next day, he was shot and killed.

Something few people may know is that within the speech Dr King called for a boycott of several companies which were descriminating against black workers.

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. [...] As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town -- downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

(Image IISG)

ELF ADVENT #14 - Plastics is a growth industry

The plastics industry is getting bigger and bigger...

And being made of plastic, it is still showing no signs of bursting. The plastics industry continues to expand and has a projected growth rate of 3.7% per year from 2022-2030. As the world's biggest plastics producer, and (along with Pepsicola) the major brand which is still failing to decrease its virgin plastic production, Coca-Cola bears a huge part of the blame for this.

This also means that when Coke promises, for example, to increase its recycled content in bottles, that increase may not even be keeping up with the ever-increasing production of plastic.

(Image DSC_9655)

ELF ADVENT #13 - Coke Barely Recycles

Coke only uses 10-20% recycled materials

We have all seen the claim on coke bottles - 100% recyclable. But what does that mean if there is no circularity in the plastic chain? And even if bottles were 100% recycled + recyclable, would we have solved the problem?

Coca-Cola is currently only using somewhere between 10-20% recycled plastic in its bottles. It aims to increase this to 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. But, in other words, that means that Coke is fully expecting not to move to a majority of recycled content this decade.

In any case, recycling is not the solution. It only postpones the choice that will eventually have to be made between landfill and incineration, and is energy-intensive as a process. Meanwhile, a tiny proportion of plastics are ever recycled, and the ones that aren’t are either dumped on land or landfill, in the sea, or have been incinerated increasing carbon emissions. Only 9% of plastics ever created have ever been recycled, according to Greenpeace.

ELF ADVENT #12 - Coke's Manufacturing Emissions

Coke pollutes as much as a small country

Coca-Cola’s manufacturing sites alone produced 5.49 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2021. That's about as much as the country of Albania's total CO2 emissions. And that's for manufacturing alone - not including agriculture, transport, and waste disposal.

Unsurprisingly, Ethical Consumer has given Coca-Cola its worst rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.

Cola's ambitious plan? To achieve carbon net zero by 2050. Even assuming a steady decline until 2050, that would mean releasing another approximately 76m tonnes of greenhouse gases.

(Image Pöllö 2010)

ELF ADVENT #11 - Union Worker Murders

Cola's bottling company implicated in the torture, kidnap, and murder of Colombian workers

Coca-Cola bottling company Panamco assisted paramilitaries in the murder of workers in Colombia, as per allegations made in the USA in 2001. 9 murders and at least 179 major human rights abuses have been suffered by unionists and their families.

This was a major topic of Mark Thomas's book and documentary.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has worked to expose the conditions suffered by workers in Colombia and elsewhere around the world.

ELF ADVENT #10 - Coca-Cola India Plants Shut Down

Cola's record in India shows pollution of water, air, soil, life...

Amongst Cola’s many environmental crimes in India they have been shown to

  • deplete groundwater
  • aggravate mass drought
  • cause water pollution
  • use contaminated water in their products
  • violate pollution laws
  • sell waste contaminated with lead and cadmium as free “fertiliser” to farmers

This has led to shutdowns of plants in Varanasi, Kerala, and Hapur.

Sadly, the damage to surrounding land is often already done, with a "high toxicity of water" being alleged years afterwards.

(Image Clay Gregory CC BY-SA 4.0)

ELF ADVENT #9 - Cola's Network of Friendly Professors

Coca-Cola has engaged in the support of a network of friendly academics in the USA, as well as in tactics to deliberately obscureits funding connections to researchers.

Research by a group of academics has shown Coca-Cola, through its funding of public health research, supports a "network of academics". The company uses deliberate tactics to "minimise the public perception of its role and use these researchers to promote industry-friendly messaging".

What we find most amazing about the paper by the good guy academics? The fact that their primary sources were "18 030 pages of emails" between Coca-Cola and academics. Reading through that is truly a heroic sacrifice.

ELF ADVENT #8 - Child Labour has benefited Coca-Cola Mexico's Recycling Supply Chain

In Mexico, child labour and subsistence workers have been part of the supply chain forCoca-Cola’s recycling plant

Yes, this is pretty bad, and yes, the president of the plant has acknowledged this to be the case.

Nor is this the first time that children have been found to take part in the supply chain for Coca-Cola's products. To assuage fears, Coca-Cola committed to 28 country-specific studies about the potential presence of child labour in its supply chain.

ELF ADVENT #7 - Waste Mismanagement

Mismanagement of Coca-Cola’s plastic waste in six nations (China, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Nigeria) resulted in 2.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The plastic we know about is bad enough... What about the renegade plastic waste, AKA, mismanaged plastic? This is the plastic that goes unaccounted for, and ends up in the environment or disposed of off the books.

Waste mismanagement is more of a problem in the Global South. Sadly, though, it also includes waste from developed countries sold through brokers. For both these problems, the waste disposal industry requires a global treaty and a common framework. Until we do, we cannot even be sure of the data we have about mismanaged waste.

What we do know is that mismanagement of waste includes uncontrolled landfills, unlicensed burning, and leaking into ecosystems including the ocean.

(Photo Vincent van Zeijst CC BY-SA 4.0)

ELF ADVENT #6 - 100bn Bottles a Year

Cola produces more than 100bn bottles each year, which equals 200,000 bottles a minute

This figure is so vast it takes some getting your little elf head around. So pause and take a second. (And during that second imagine 3,333 bottles falling past your window.)

Someone once told us that if a million seconds is 12 days, a billion seconds is 31 years. Once polluters get into the billions of anything, they can be pretty sure of one thing: their footprint is so huge it is beginning to escape the ordinary human’s ability to even conceptualise it.

Cola has repeatedly failed to keep pledges on increasing recycled content, and to support true reuse schemes. Instead, it has continued to increase its use of virgin plastics.

(Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ted Mathys)

ELF ADVENT #5 - Cola Wastes Water

Coca-Cola Wastes Huge Amounts of Water

The water footprint of Coca-Cola is spread between water used in agriculture, especially for the production of sugar, and in the industrial processes in which it is made, and distribution.

In total, according to Coca-Cola's own estimates, one litre of Coke produced in Europe requires seventy litres of water in total. Europe has a wetter climate than most other parts of the world, so it seems likely that the water toll may be higher elsewhere too, due to higher irrigation requirements.

With summer droughts now a fact of life in Europe and further abroad, it is time to take a serious look at our water usage.

ELF ADVENT #4 - Plastic Drives the Petrochemical Industry

Plastic a Major Product of Petrochemical Industry

The continued use of plastic, particularly the production of huge amounts of virgin plastic, is a major prop to the petrochemical industry.

All of the major consumer goods companies (like Mars, Coca-Cola, Colgate...) are linked to at least one petrochemical giant (like BP, Shell, ExxonMobil).

These links often pass through numerous suppliers, meaning that the precise connections are murky and hard to expose.

As long as companies keep using plastics - and Coca-Cola is still using ever more virgin plastics - they will be a major prop to the economics of climate-destroying oil and gas extraction.

These major links have recently been rigorously exposed by Greenpeace.

ELF ADVENT #3 - Cola's Broken Recycling Promises

Cola Has Failed to Keep its Recycling Pledge

In 1990, Coke pledged to use 25% of recycled materials inits PET bottles. By 2022 they had only managed 10%.

This does not give us much confidence when Cola makes new pledges to gain green credentials and favourable media. We'll be looking at some other iffy promises later in the calendar...

Amongst the more nuts of Cola's PR-stunt pledges? Tackling obesity when there were still 35g sugar in each can stands out especially.

ELF ADVENT #2 - Cola Sells Drought-Stricken Residents Their Own Water

Drought in Mexico is Aggravated by Drinks Companies

During droughts this year, Mexican residents could choose between drinking dirty water or paying for their own water resold in plastic bottles by big drinks companies like Coca-Cola.

In Monterrey, one of the largest cities in Mexico, taps ran dry during this year's drought and the water supplied by truck was dirty and unfit for drinking. Meanwhile, brewers and soft drinks companies continued to use billions of litres of water. State security forces were deployed to patrol reservoirs in case of water "theft".

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, as reported by the NY Times, the tap water is so heavily chlorinated it is undrinkable, so residents drink Coca-Cola instead.

Mexico is the biggest consumer of soft drinks in the world. This addiction is driving malnourishment and a diabetes crisis, which has caused a diabetes crisis to be declared in the southern state of Chiapas.

ELF ADVENT #1 - Cola is the World Top Plastics Polluter

Cola is the world's #1 plastic polluter

What better fact is there to begin our advent calendar of misdemeamour? Coca-Cola is, by quite some margin, the world's worst offender when it comes to plastic pollution.

The company generates 3.2m tonnes of plastic a year, and this quantity has risen since 2018. Don't take our word for it: check out the Brand Audit 2022 by Break Free From Plastic. Every year, thousands of volunteers across the world take part in a huge audit of plastic waste found in the environment. For five years in a row, Coca-Cola has been the worst offender.

Despite the fact that most brands are decreasing their use of virgin plastics, the biggest players in the market, including Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Mars, are still increasing. And the plastics market is a growth market, set to continue to grow by 3.7% a year until 2030...