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  • This story starts in one of the most populous cities

  • in Tanzania: Dar Es Salaam. In the middle of the city there lies a shining blue mountain.

  • But this mountain is not built of rock and dirt. It's built of plastic bottles. A huge

  • pile of plastic bottles that grows upwards towards the clouds. And up those steep slopes

  • walk workers lugging bags of even more plastic weighing over 70 kilograms. Today, we're

  • going to look at the environmental impact of Coca-Cola, its use of plastic, water, and

  • figure out how that all ties back to this plastic mountain in Dar Es Salaam.

  • In May of 1886, pharmacist John Pemberton wanted to try something a little different.

  • He decided to combine a newly concocted syrup recipe with the bubbly texture of carbonated

  • water. For the patrons of Pemberton's pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, the recipe was a hit,

  • but it wasn't until a shrewd businessman named Asa Candler bought the secret formula

  • that Coke truly became a phenomenon. Candler aggressively marketed the Coca-Cola syrup

  • to pharmacies and soda fountains throughout the Atlanta area, and soon the brand began

  • its climb to dominance. Alongside savvy marketing, Coca-cola did one other thing that made it

  • so successful: it kept distribution costs low by tapping into local water sources. At

  • first, the company only sold syrup, so soda fountains would have to use their own carbonated

  • water, but as the company dove into the bottled soda industry the factories began to draw

  • heavily from the local watersheds. So, Coke is not only a soda company but also a water

  • company. And the drain the Coca-Cola brand puts on local water supplies is substantial.

  • Let's zoom in to India, where Coke runs 58 bottling facilities. Out of just one of

  • those factories, Coke typically produces around 860,000 bottles per day, and according to

  • a third-party assessment of Coke in 2010, to make one half-liter bottle of Coke the

  • company uses 150 to 300 liters of water. 99.8% of this water footprint comes from supply

  • chain ingredients, like water-intensive sugar cane. The actual water used in the production

  • process is roughly 1.9 liters. But for Coke, which relies on local supply chains for ingredients,

  • their bottling facility's footprint can be devastating for the surrounding communities.

  • Indeed, in 2004, Coca-Cola was ordered to shut a bottling facility in Kerala, India

  • because it was sucking up too much groundwater. And again in 2014, another Coke factory in

  • Varanasi was forced to close after local farmers and community members rose up and drew attention

  • to the facility's drain on local aquifers. And once again, in 2016, India's Central

  • Pollution Control Board found a Coke plant in Hapur in violation of multiple environmental

  • regulations, including discharging wastewater into a pond local farmers used for irrigation,

  • not using sewage treatment plants, and using polluting boilers and diesel generators. In

  • short, Coke has had a track record among its bottling sites of draining and polluting watersheds

  • to produce as much product as possible.

  • In 2020, however, Coke claims things are different. It's now claiming that it replenishes 100%

  • of the water it uses to create its beverages back to local systems. But according to an

  • investigative report from The Verge, this is just greenwashing. Much like carbon offsets,

  • Coke is just investing in water projects to achieve a water neutral impact. Essentially,

  • Coke is doing some work to make its water impact more efficient, but they are, on the

  • whole, continuing with business as usual. They invest in sanitation and well-digging

  • projects in rural areas as well as support water conservation nonprofits to disguise

  • their dismal history of water-use. To add insult to injury, some of these Coke-funded

  • projects cause more harm than good, like the digging of irrigation trenches in National

  • Parks in Mexico to improve growing conditions for saplings. Even though scientific studies

  • as well as the Mexican government's forestry commission, “concluded the practice did

  • not improve growing conditions, but it did increase erosion and forest degradation.”

  • But for Coke, water-use is just one part of the problem.

  • Coca-Cola is the leading beverage provider around the world. It sells 1.9 billion drinks

  • every single day. And almost all of those beverages are wrapped up in plastic. Because

  • Coke has a plastic problem. But that wasn't always the case. Back in the 1950s, Coke bottles

  • were made of glass: “In the 1950s when coke was dispensed in glass bottles they had a

  • self-imposed deposit of 40 cents. Coke wanted their expensive glass bottles back so they

  • could reuse them.” Essentially, before the introduction of cheap plastic, Coke was the

  • one that had to deal with their trash--not the consumer. As a result, they used durable,

  • reusable glass bottles that could be used time and time again to cut down on the costs

  • of bottling. Fast forward to today and plastic bottles are now synonymous with the Coca-Cola

  • brand. Indeed, Coke recently admitted to producing over 3 million metric tonnes of plastic every

  • single year. An article from The Guardian calculates that that's the equivalent of

  • creating 200,000 plastic bottles every minute. Although Coke's plastic is made from an

  • easily recycled PET plastic, most Coke bottles don't end up in the recycling bin. An audit

  • that looked at thousands of pieces of ocean trash found that Coke was the most polluting

  • brand in 2018 and 2019. So with its transition away from glass, Coke moved the burden from

  • the company onto individuals, requiring consumers to do much of the work of ocean clean-up and

  • recycling. Indeed, it's no coincidence that the infamous and highly problematic crying

  • Native American commercial calling on the public to recycle was released around the

  • same time beverage companies began churning out plastic bottles in the U.S. The commercial,

  • as it would later turn out, was sponsored by several bottling manufacturers including

  • Coke. In short, beginning in the 1970s, Coke embraced cheaper production at the expense

  • of surrounding communities, environments, and whole oceans.

  • Which is exactly what has happened in Dar Es Salaam over the last seven years. Back

  • in the Tanzanian city, the plastic mountain is still piled high, all because beverage

  • producers like the Coke factory nearby, switched from a glass bottle deposit system to the

  • recyclableplastic model. An investigative documentary by Java Films visited one of the

  • four Coke factories in Tanzania, which up until 7 years ago, only produced glass bottles.

  • The glass bottles were more expensive to buy, but once you returned them to the Coke factory,

  • you would receive your deposit back. In 2013, however, the Coca-Cola facility switched almost

  • all of their beverages over to plastic bottles, much as they did in the U.S. during the 1970s.

  • The result has been excessive plastic pollution and the arrival of a gruesome poverty economy

  • centered around recycling. People search through piles of trash on beaches and landfills often

  • cutting themselves on sharp metal or syringes, all to collect the PET bottles that Coke churns

  • out. After hours of enduring this harsh labor, these pickers then hand over their finds for

  • meager pay. And many of those bottles make it to that mountain of plastic, which happens

  • to be a recycling collection and sorting facility. There workers must make the perilous trek

  • up that ever-growing plastic mountain because the recycling industry is crumbling. Specifically,

  • China has recently stopped accepting foreign recyclable goods, and now there's nowhere

  • for that plastic mountain in Dar Es Salaam to go. It's turning into trash. So, Coca-cola

  • did away with a system of reuse that according to a Coke commissioned environmental assessment

  • was the most ecologically sound, and instead embraced a system of plastic that indiscriminately

  • pollutes the environment and places the cost and burden of clean-up onto individuals.

  • But wait, isn't Coke running a campaign called “A World Without Waste?” Aren't

  • they engaging in environmental campaigns and working towards goals for the better? Yes,

  • and this is a classic example of how Corporate Social Responsibility allows companies to

  • distract consumers from the real damage they're doing. Yes, Coke is sponsoring ocean clean-up

  • non-profits and investing inplant-basedbottling plastics, but this greenwashes the

  • fact that if Coke had not switched from a glass deposit system the problem would exist.

  • Indeed, Coke has consistently lobbied against deposit systems for decades, because as the

  • author of the book Citizen Coke explains, “because it means higher cost for them and

  • in the end, this was a way of forcing them to internalize their pollution.” In addition,

  • the investigative report from The Verge notes thatCoke has spent tens of millions of

  • dollars on water efficiency and access projects in partnerships with groups ranging from the

  • UN Development Program to the US Agency for International Development, making it a darling

  • of the organizations that track corporate citizenship.” Essentially, Coke is causing

  • a mortal wound on the Earth, then is turning around and offering to patch it up with some

  • band-aids, and then using their $4 billion annual marketing budget is trying to make

  • it look like they're saving the environment. In this way, Coca-cola reveals the various

  • ways that multinationals in a neoliberal capitalist economy seek growth at all costs, but then

  • turn around and market themselves as good samaritans cleaning up the problems that they

  • themselves created. Coca-cola, will never be the one to solve plastic pollution and

  • water scarcity. But there are real solutions to these problems like glass deposit systems,

  • and they're effective because they address the problem at the source.

  • I've been hitting some creative blocks in my script writing recently. It feels like

  • every video I make follows the same formula that in many ways constrains the possibilities

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This story starts in one of the most populous cities

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Coke: The World's Worst Plastic Polluter?

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/12
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