Ronaldo may have replaced Coca Cola with water for health issues, but the FMCG sector causes severe damage to the environment.
Team ulaunch explains the interlinkages between them.
What is the Ronaldo Coca Cola controversy all about?
During a press appearance at Euro 2020 on June 15, 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo pushed the cola bottles away and grabbed a water bottle. The removal of two Coca-Cola bottles by him has triggered new debates. His actions have led to a $4 billion drop in the corporation’s stock value. This occurrence served as a reminder to the public that carbonated drinks are a leading cause of obesity, chronic disorders, and heart disease. While Ronaldo’s actions might have been driven by health concerns, the production and consumption of such beverages have a major negative impact on the environment. This impact is not limited to just beverages, but everyday products that we purchase. Let’s discuss some of the environmental issues arising from consuming fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs).
What are the environmental issues?
- Plastic pollution
Among the most pressing environmental issues is plastic pollution. We see photographs of tropical beaches and seashores littered with plastic bottles and bags, wildlife fatalities caused by plastic, and overflowing landfills all the time.
Due to their quick usage and disposal, single-use plastics are by far the most hazardous. It degrades into microplastics over time. Microplastics are formed when plastic breaks down. These are very tiny, therefore, ingested by organisms. This leads to their bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain. Marine animals, such as fish, consume and store them in their tissues. When humans consume these fishes, these microplastics build up in our systems.
Many FMCG giants claim that their products can be recycled 100%. However, this assumes that these products are discarded appropriately, which is not always the case. It also ignores the recycling process’s shortcomings. When the product has exited its network of control, these corporations can only exercise so much authority.
Approximately 60% of the plastic we purchase ends up in landfills. Each item may need close to a millennium to degrade. When these break down, they release dangerous toxins into the environment. According to researchers, the chemicals released by decaying plastic cause several medical concerns, such as cancer and reproductive issues. The continuous dependence of corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi on single-use plastic packaging means that increasing plastic waste is being dumped into the environment daily.
- Damaging Ecologically Sensitive Areas
Most operations of FMCG corporations depend on accessibility to large amounts of water. These corporations have been rapidly acquiring ownership of aquifers in regions throughout the globe to meet this demand. These water reserves have been accumulated over centuries in such vast underground basins. They have been criticised especially for increasing water scarcity in areas where water supplies and precipitation are scarce.
Corporations are also the major contributors to deforestation. The stimulating demand for the four goods that account for the majority of forest depletion includes palm oil, commodities from livestock, soy, and timber goods. These goods can be discovered in a wide range of common commodities, ranging from a takeout dinner to a tube of toothpaste. This becomes a threat to the wildlife living in these regions as well.
- Green House Gases Emissions
Manufacturing is one of the most significant sources of global GHG emissions. When industrial businesses use energy and transportation in their production, it adds to a great extent to their carbon footprint. In the case of FMCG corporations, the processes used to produce the finished goods account for the majority of GHG emissions. This mostly involves the felling of trees for factory construction, the exploitation of primary resources, the usage of energy to operate the production plants, and the chemicals used in the process of production. The mode of transportation a firm employs in its production process is yet another contributor to its carbon footprint.
Who is responsible for this?
As per a survey conducted by the organisation Break Free From Plastic, the Coca-Cola Company has ranked top for the third year consecutively on the most plastic polluting firms around the globe. PepsiCo and Nestlé In came in second and third. Coca-Cola generated more plastic garbage in comparison to the following three world’s largest plastic polluters collectively, according to the Brand Audit Report 2020.
How did it start?
Free trade and economic globalization have resulted in more prosperity as well as increased transnational risks. One of these threats is environmental degradation caused by MNC’s economic activities. Much of what we do has an impact on the planet, from the meals we consume to the energy we utilize, however, it was not always this way. Anything we produce now is altered because of the Industrial Revolution, spanning from food and healthcare to energy and manufacturing processes.
Since the 1800s, industrialisation has influenced the trajectory of the world. The comprehensive structure of an economy for the aim of manufacturing is known as industrialisation. Manufacturing has always entailed major energy use and the modification of ecological systems to meet the industries’ needs. We weren’t considering the environmental consequences of exploiting fossil fuels such as coal to operate our new equipment and technology back then. Instead, the focus was on expanding as much, as quickly, and as widely as permissible. This is due to the fundamental ideology of industrialisation treating the planet as a resource to be exploited to feed human wants, consumerism, and growth. It’s just in the last few years that we’ve begun to consider the environmental impact of our exponential growth.
How do they help the environment?
The answer is that they don’t. While firms like Coca-Cola, Unilever, and PepsiCo have taken some efforts to reduce their contribution to the plastic pollution crisis, it is right to say that they aren’t acting sufficiently with whatever resources they do have. Numerous sustainability initiatives by these corporations have been labelled “greenwashing” because they continue to create loads of plastic pollution regularly.
What is Greenwashing?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it is.”
Have you ever wondered why there are images of rugged mountains, pristine lakes and green leaves on plastic water bottles? Why are Evian’s bottles made with “eco-design” and Aquafina’s bottles being called “Eco-Fina” bottles? Why is Nestle claiming that its “Eco-Shape” bottle is more efficient, recyclable and more environmentally responsible (since it is made of plant-based plastics) and is the 3rd largest plastic producer on the planet as of 2020? Greenwashing, a term coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, are oftentimes intentionally carried out by marketing and PR sectors for various reasons.
Effects of Greenwashing
A greenwashing firm engages in two operations simultaneously: poor environmental performance and positive communication about its environmental performance. Hence, it is misleading, but it hinders if not pushes back the progress made by sustainable designs or circular economy initiatives.
Aside from environmental consequences, Corporate greenwashing negatively affects businesses’ reputation, which can lead to a lack of trust among stakeholders and the public.
Corporations that want to boost revenues by displaying their dedication to environmental issues unintentionally overestimate their environmental responsibilities. Several corporations have recently been criticized and suffer backlash for greenwashing, particularly on social media.
Greenwashing’s main hazard is that it might persuade individuals to make unsustainable decisions. You might wish to buy a firm’s goods if they claim to be environmentally friendly. If these sustainability promises prove to be untrue, then by supporting the corporation, you’ve unintentionally helped in environmental destruction.
Hence, public awareness and scepticism to question a company’s ethos backed by inclusive and detailed regulations are crucial for the prevention of Greenwashing.
How can this issue be tackled?
- Alternative to Plastic
Breaking free from plastics as well as pushing businesses to find alternative materials to replace plastics is the most effective solution to the plastic pollution problem.
Although glass bottles and aluminium cans are generally regarded to be more environmentally beneficial than plastic, these, also, have a significant environmental impact. While glass generates fewer carbon emissions than plastic or aluminium, transportation of glass bottles emits higher emissions due to its weight. Alternatively, bioplastics produced from plant-based components and are generally biodegradable must be carefully discarded.
Therefore, we must utilize fewer single-use plastic products as well as a shift to sustainable alternatives.
- Change in Consumer Behaviour
During the pandemic, stockpiling and impulse buying from the comfort of our homes has been a go-to therapy for many during the lockdown. There has been a 45% increase in the number of “non-essential” items by consumers. It is believed that online shopping is more eco-friendly than a store. But due to multiple choices and sizes that can be purchased at the convenience of postal returns versus trips to a shopping mall or high street, there has been a shocking 20% increase in online returns ending up in landfill because they are unable to be resold by the retailer. In addition, as people demand quick delivery, air freight produces more carbon emissions, around three times more than maritime or road shipping.
Changing consumers’ perspectives of such goods is equally important so they don’t rely only on products that have single-use plastic packaging. Educating consumers about the importance of keeping in mind and practising the 3Rs while purchasing single-use plastics.
According to a global Nielsen report, 81% of consumers believe that businesses must act to protect the environment. Many from developing economies, who have to cope with environmental risks on a daily basis, were understandably the most enthusiastic participants. The WHO predicts that approximately 12.6 million people die each year as a result of environmental health concerns.
- Efficient Recycling Process
Creating a system that makes recycling simple for consumers while also being productive and adequate to be economically feasible. Recycling plastics can help in reducing their accumulation at landfills and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (sunlight and heat cause plastic to release certain gases..). Although, almost all the plastic is non-biodegradable, causing harm to the ecosystem and also damaging aquatic life. Therefore, recovery of this energy in the form of recycling or upcycling can be favourable.
Also, read about how Noida based startup is handling plastic waste through recycling Shayna Ecounified: Paving Sustainable Pathways.
We must understand that as average consumers, we are not alone to be blamed for the issue of climate change. This dishonourable distinction is given to the government and these large corporations whose misuse and negligence are accountable for the majority of environmental harm. However, this doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t make any efforts to do things more ethically and sustainably. It is a challenging quest and greenwashing makes it much more difficult.
Read more about causes, effects and solutions of plastic pollution at Plastic Pollution – Our Plastic Lives.
Researched and Written by Shubda Moond & Sharanya Balasubramanian, Team ulaunch.