Greenpeace challenges Coca Cola to ditch single-use plastic bottles with new Christmas campaign

Nine out of 10 seabirds will consume plastic in their lifetime, the hard-hitting truth leading a new Greenpeace campaign challenging Coca Cola to stop using single-use plastic bottles. 

The non-profit organisation is kickstarting a video-led social media campaign to counter the soft drink giant's seasonal advertising blitz, depicting the impact plastic pollution has on seabirds.

Coca Cola Amatil produces hundreds of millions of plastic bottles every year for New Zealand alone. An estimated 40 percent of 400 million plastic bottles will find their way into the environment - the ocean and landfill. Greenpeace is now calling on the corporation to opt for non-toxic alternatives, such as glass or refillable containers.

Speaking to The AM Show on Thursday, Greenpeace plastics campaigner Phil Vine reiterated that the plastic bottle needs to be banned.

Many New Zealanders agree, with almost 55,000 signing the organisation's petition to ban single-use plastic bottles in New Zealand under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and to incentivise reusable and refillable alternatives.

Research results show that the average Kiwi household uses 941 plastic containers or bottles per year and of these, 41 percent by item count could potentially be recycled - but instead end up in landfill.

"Politicians just need to say, this is now a prohibited item," Vine said. "We're not going to ask people to [ban them] overnight. There needs to be a gradual transition… [but] there is an emergency. We need to move quickly, pragmatically - we need to make sure that what we're doing is going to stick.

"We need something different, other than plastic."

Seabirds will frequently mistake plastic for food. From their aerial viewpoint, floating drink bottles resemble squid to birds like the Toroa, or Wandering Albatross, a bird at risk of extinction - like 90 percent of New Zealand's other indigenous seabirds. 

Earlier this year, a juvenile Albatross died in veterinary hospital care after swallowing a 500ml bottle whole. 

Seabird expert Graeme Taylor from the Department of Conservation notes that if that bad had died at sea, the plastic bottle would have floated free from the body, able to kill again.

"Even as far away as the remote Campbell Island where the Toroa or Royal Albatross nests, chicks have been found with multiple plastic bits in their stomach, fed to them by their unsuspecting parents," Vine said.

Beach audits have found tops from plastic bottles are one of the most common items of pollution on New Zealand shores - also regularly found in the stomachs of dead birds. The  bottles can last for hundreds of years before eventually breaking down into microplastics, which are consumed by fish and subsequently enter the human food chain. 

By 2050, it's estimated that the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish.

"For a country that cares about nature, banning plastic drinks bottles is the next obvious step," Vine said. "We have reached an emergency point.

"We should really try and make this happen. We should sign the Ban the Bottles petition. We should put pressure on companies like Coke - supermarkets getting on side when public on side - let's get them on-board."

Coca Cola has pledged that by 2030, it will collect and recycle one can or plastic bottle for every can or bottle purchased. Yet Vine says recycling is not the answer, noting that just 9 percent of the world's plastic has been recycled since 1950. A significant amount of recycled material doesn't make it to the facility or is sent overseas for processing.

"Globally, we've made a commitment by 2030 to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell. We made our bottles and cans recyclable by design to give them every chance of being recycled," a Coca Cola representative said in a statement.

"We've also invested an increasing amount of recycled plastic in our bottles to keep this material in a constant closed-loop and out of our oceans or landfill."

The campaign follows last year’s ban on plastic shopping bags at the checkout.