How Coca-Cola, Unilever and others are delaying action on plastic

A worker in Accra sorts plastic for recycling.

A worker in Accra sorts plastic for recycling.
photo: Christina Aldvira/AFP (Getty Images)

when a huge plastic producer Like Coca-Cola Says It’s Working on a Plastic Crisis, What’s That? real looks like?One investigation A Bloomberg article published Friday documents how a Ghanaian initiative has been used by some of the world’s largest plastic producers to fight the threat of a plastic ban, while failing to deliver on some of its key promises.

Plastic pollution is a deadly problem in Ghana, create More than 1 million pounds of waste are recycled each year with a recycling rate of only 5%. In 2015, floods in the country’s capital, Accra, killed more than 200 people; a later government report found the flooding was made worse by garbage clogging waterways. Following the tragedy, there were calls for a ban on plastic.

In response, companies producing consumer goods in the region met to discuss how to “take a firm position that no, banning plastics is not the way to go,” a policy adviser told Bloomberg. They have come up with the Ghana Recycling Initiative for Private Sector, or GRIPE, which is described on its website as “an industry-led coalition…with a stake in the plastics industry to integrate sustainable waste management solutions, particularly around plastics. .” founding members The initiative includes Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Guinness, Unilever and Nestlé. During the second half of the 2010s, GRIPE was actively mentioned at international conferences and launched initiatives in collaboration with UK government officials.

However, consumer-to-consumer marketing to Ghanaian consumers—rather than a real effort to change the status quo—seems to be all GRIPE has accomplished since its inception, as the Bloomberg survey shows. European Commission 2020 Report Research on recycling in Ghana found that despite GRIPE’s “high social media activity”, the program “has produced few high-impact results to date”.

GRIPE programme launched in partnership with oil giant Total encourage Its viewers “joined the recycling movement” in a tweet), installing blue recycling stations at gas stations around two cities. But a tracker placed inside the plastic bottles by Bloomberg showed that at least one of the bottles never left the recycling bin, and when they revisited the bin four months after discarding the bottle, it was still there, and the bin was “full of overflowing.” “. (The company responsible for recycling the collected bottles told Bloomberg that funding for the GRIPE program, provided in part by Total and Coca-Cola, has run out.) In 2021, GRIPE touted New ‘permanent buyback centre’ for recyclables in Accra; Bloomberg found the centre unattended and neglected, with locals telling them it had been ‘abandoned for months’.

GRIPE’s current membership is cheap for international conglomerates that benefit from the good PR it brings: annual membership is 45,000 Ghanaian cedi, or $5,800, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg. (Nestlé only pays $1,850.) For a large company like Unilever, that’s a paltry figure: less than 0.0001% of its global marketing budget. Importantly, GRIPE itself does not pay for the plastic it collects. Instead, it was purchased by an external partner. Ghana’s lack of facilities to turn plastic bottles into new ones also makes it more difficult to sell collected plastic bottles, which must be shipped to Europe.

The survey illustrates how the global companies and oil companies most responsible for the plastic crisis are using activities that appear to be helping solve the problems they create to delay and push for real solutions.

GRIPE is “an image campaign for all the companies involved,” Jeffrey Provencal, who founded a plastics company in Ghana to try to build a recycling center in the country, told Bloomberg. “There’s no accountability. You can throw some money in and say you’re part of the game.”

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