NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan environmentalists have condemned a decision by soft drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola to switch from green-colored plastic bottles to clear easily-recyclable bottles for their Sprite drinks.
“Coca-Cola’s latest campaign is nothing short of greenwashing,” Fredrick Njehu, a senior political advisor at GreenSpace Africa, told Zenger News.
Corporate greenwashing is behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.
“Corporate capture in the production and distribution of plastic bottles cannot be corrected through collection and recycling. These have proven to be unsustainable, backward, and in total disregard of efforts to curb plastic pollution in our environment.”
Coca-Cola is switching to polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles for their lemon-lime flavored Sprite drinks worldwide. The soft-drink maker recently launched the clear bottles for their Kenyan market, joining Nigeria, South Africa, and Ethiopia.
“Our people in Kenya can now enjoy the refreshing taste of their favorite sparkling lemon-lime drink, knowing their bottle can be easily recycled and made into new items,” Coca-Cola Beverages Africa managing director Xavi Selga said during the launch in Nairobi on June 28, 2021.
“This is a plus in our joint efforts to grow our business while contributing towards more sustainable environmental practices.”
Coca-Cola produces three million metric tonnes of plastic packaging annually, according to a 2019 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Program.
The company’s biggest plastics pollution footprint is in Mexico, where it produces 75,000 metric tons yearly. Its biggest pollution footprint in Africa is in Nigeria, where it generates over 15,500 metric tons of plastic waste annually.
Africa’s burgeoning middle-class—that consumes many products packaged in plastic—is a threat to a plastic-free continent.
Selga said Coca-Cola Foundation is working with several players, including recycling firms, to recycle plastic bottles from Coca-Cola and other organizations, in line with the firm’s World Without Waste campaign.
“Along with our bottling partners and other industry partners across Southern and East Africa, we’ll invest over $38 million over three years to stimulate plastic recycling industries and educate people about what, how, and where to recycle.”
“This is part of our commitment to fully participate in the solution to address the plastic pollution problem and to accelerate the implementation of our global World Without Waste vision, which aims to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100 percent of the packaging we sell by 2030.”
Environmentalists say multinational corporations—the biggest producers of plastic waste, such as Coca-Cola—undermine conservation efforts.
“Now they are releasing millions of tons of plastics into water bodies under the pretext of recycling,” Amos Wamanya, a campaigner at GreenSpace Africa, told Zenger News.
“Have you seen any of their recycling plants around? The PET plastics they ‘recycle’ still end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Is that saving nature”
Eugene Rapando, an environmentalist at the non-governmental organization Green Planet Africa, said polyethylene terephthalate bottles are as dangerous as any other plastic.
“They are just the same thing,” he told Zenger News
“You cannot give a better alternative by changing the name of a product and claim it is a better option. Research has proven that this type of plastic has a close connection with health risks such as stunted growth in both plants and animals besides affecting reproduction. How then is that a better option?”
The National Environment Management Authority, in 2017, banned all single-use plastics, making Kenya among the first African countries to initiate the ban, a move lauded by environmentalists, including the United Nations Environment Program.
The authority said more than 50 percent of animals slaughtered in urban areas in Kenya have plastic in their stomachs.
Plastic use in the country has been reduced by 80 percent since the ban, according to the National Environment Management Authority.
The United Nations Environment Program, in a 2019 report, said 91 percent of plastic produced in the world ends up in rivers, lakes, and oceans due to the low recycling capacity in the world.
Conservationists want stringent measures enacted and followed to prevent plastic manufacturers from producing single-use plastics and diversifying into alternative packaging materials.
Most of the global plastic waste is generated in Asia, while America, Japan, and the European Union are the world’s largest producers of plastic packaging waste per capita, according to a United Nations Environmental Program report.
Only nine percent of the nine billion tons of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Most end up in landfills, dumps, or in the environment, said the report.
“Most plastics do not biodegrade. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller fragments known as microplastics. When plastic breaks down, it becomes even more difficult to remove from the ocean,” said the United Nations Environmental Program report.
Environmentalists have raised the alarm over the plastic pollution on the Kenyan coast, too.
“Big pieces of plastic choke and entangle species like whales, turtles, and seabirds, whilst tiny pieces of plastic are mistaken for food—choking and poisoning marine animals,” said Greenpeace in a statement.
Some Kenyan homes burn plastic materials as a way of cleaning up the environment. But the fumes released by burning plastics is as dangerous as the plastic itself.
“Unfortunately, bodies tasked with environmental conservation are the ones working with polluters,” Dennis Syambi, an environmentalist working in Kenya’s Kitale to restore Mount Elgon Forest, told Zenger News.
“The agency was in the spotlight in 2020 for laxity in cracking the whip on polluters of Lake Victoria, Kisumu County. Recently [in April 2021], a parliamentary committee threw out a National Environment Management Authority report which sided with a polluter [London Distillers Kenya Limited] in Athi River, Machakos County. That’s enough proof.”
The National Environment Management Authority did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
(Edited by Kipchumba Some and Amrita Das)
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