How the Coca-Cola “Zero Waste Cities” program contributes to misinform citizen about what is truly a circular economy

10-04-2019 | Alexa Aubertin | Zero Waste Montenegro

As you now know, billions of plastic bottles from companies like Coca-Cola enter the environment each year. Actually, the three companies Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle produce all together more than half of the 186 billions plastic bottles put on the market every year! These bottles should be getting recycled, but most of them aren’t.

THE SOLUTION – Looking at systems deployed all over the world, it has been proven many times that there is only one system that can achieve over 90% recycling rate for beverage containers: this system is called Deposit Refund Scheme. (Basically it is adding a small, refundable deposit to incentivize the return of bottles for recycling).

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? Coca-Cola says they care about plastic pollution – but with their history of opposition to Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), their words don’t match their actions. Coca-Cola is lobbying in many countries around the world against the come-back of a DRS, even for plastic bottles, which shows its will NOT to take responsibility for the pollution it creates in our environment, but outsource it to consumers/citizen (YOU!) and to local governments (also in developing countries). As long as Coca-Cola produces packaging designed to be used ONCE and last for centuries and does NOT actively implement DRS to recycle it to the same grade, it can not pretend to encourage a true circular economy.

WHAT ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS ARE ASKING COCA-COLA  We’re asking Coca-Cola to clarify their position on container deposits and tell us how they plan to stop their bottles from polluting the environment. Join the The Story of Stuff campaign to demand them to take their responsibility.


IN GREECE: According to Coca-Cola website, they started in 2018 a global “community legacy” program called Zero Waste City (Zero Waste Future – a World without Waste) that was launched in Greece aiming at making Thessaloniki “the first city in the country with the potential to become a zero-waste municipality“. This Coca-Cola program is made of of 3 components:

1 – “Print Your City” bringing a 3D printer to convert “plastic waste” into a few pieces of urban furniture’s. This method of transforming plastic to an object of lower quality (from food grade to non-food grade plastic) is called downgrading/downscaling/downcycling, therefore it is not circular as the material can’t be kept in the loop. Zero Waste Montenegro as well as Zero Waste Europe do NOT support downcycling of material: though Zero Waste principle discourages the use of single-use products/packaging, when they exist, the next best alternative is to recycle them – so keeping a material in a ‘loop’ (= circular economy). If a city would print urban furniture’s with all the plastic bottles Coca-Cola produces every year, we would drown under plastic benches in our cities!

2- “Recycle at the Beach” which is a beach clean-up to ‘boost awareness for recycling and educate people on how to recycle’. As you know, recycling is quite low on the waste hierarchy, as it requires lots of water and energy to make and transport (Recycling is the re-processing of raw material into new ones). And only high quality and clean plastic can be recycled to the same grade a large number of times. The best way to collect high-quality plastic? DRS. The main goal of a clean-up should be littering prevention and awareness in reducing single-use plastic consumption.

3 – “Interactive recycling and circular economy center” to educate people and schools on the values of the circular economy and a new approach to waste management. Such element can potentially be a good thing, providing that this center will not be used to misinformed citizen on a misleading definition of circular economy – as shown in the 2 previous components of its program.

IN MONTENEGRO: In 2019, Coca-Cola has started another Zero Waste city program which consists of placing 40 street containers to collect PET bottles for recycling, as well as doing door-to-door education to the citizen and also of tourists. Putting PET bottles collection containers in the street is of course ‘better than nothing’ as it keeps the plastic quality to the same level to be properly recycled, but as we know, this will only be able to capture a fraction of the PET bottles Coca-Cola put on the market every year in Budva. Even if it would capture all the PET bottles put on the market in Budva, it is only one small part of the waste being produced in Budva every year. It wouldn’t make Budva a Zero Waste City.


What would make Budva a true Zero Waste city would be reducing its dependence on single-use materials, therefore reducing its overall waste production. Also an important increase of organics composting, reusing/repurposing streams and recycling of materials to the same grade would contribute to make Budva a truly Zero Waste city.

Zero Waste Europe and its 28 members are working with over 400 municipalities all over Europe that have taken on the challenge of the ambitious Zero Waste Municipalities Masterplan. What defines a “Zero Waste Municipality” are the firm and verifiable commitments to move towards zero waste and the results which that delivers. Zero Waste Municipality/City is a European Trademark owned by Zero Waste Europe.

Becoming a Zero Waste city is about changing the way waste are dealt with, starting with reduction of residual waste, increase in composting, increase in reuse of secondary material, and at least increase in recycling – with monitoring and evaluation of results throughout the implementation phase. It usually starts by implementation of door-to-door collection of sorted waste. The entire city and its citizen are involved in such transformation, and it can take months to years to implement. This reputable Zero Waste Cities program has been established by Zero Waste EuropeGiving a 3D printer or 40 containers to a city and organizing a cleanup does not make it a Zero Waste City!

If Coca-Cola or any municipality in Montenegro is interested in truly becoming a Zero Waste city, we recommend them to first read the Zero Waste Master Plan and/or to contact us.


#buycott Coca-Cola products by choosing instead responsible products or drinking more tap water with home-made juices/syrups (which is also much healthier) and then tell Coca-Cola to stop blocking plastic solutions today!


To go further:

Coca-Cola Named Most Polluting Brand in Global Audit of Plastic Waste