Coca-Cola won't give up plastic bottles because people want them. And that's the problem.
Photo by maria mendiola on Unsplash

Coca-Cola was recently named the world's largest plastic waste producer in a global plastic audit, and it appears that won't be changing any time soon. The drink giant produces about three million tons of plastic packaging each year, or the equivalent of 200,000 bottles per minute, according to the BBC.

Global studies show that 9 out of 10 plastic bottles don't get recycled. We know that a huge percentage of our plastic waste ends up in the ocean, filling up the bellies of whales and breaking down into harmful microplastics. And with changes in how and where recycling gets processed, recycling itself has proven to be a non-solution to the planet's plastic pollution problem.

In light of this information, pumping out more and more single-use plastic bottles seems like a ridiculously irresponsible move. And yet, Coca-Cola recently announced that it will be sticking with single-use plastic bottles. Their reasoning? Because people like them.


Like any business, Coca-Cola's top priority is its bottom line. Though the company has pledged to use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030 and to partner with NGOs to improve waste collection, they are beholden to the demands of its customers. As Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's head of sustainability said at the World Economic Forum, "Business won't be in business if we don't accommodate consumers."

RELATED: A dead whale just washed ashore with 88 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach. This needs to stop.

The problem is, she's right. And that, kids, is one reason why "free market environmentalism"—the idea that capitalism will eventually lead to environmental responsibility because consumers will demand it—simply doesn't work. The free market is great for a lot of things, but protecting the planet isn't one of them. Humans are creatures of habit. We like what we are familiar with and we tend to resist change, even when we know it's ideal or even necessary. If we're used to drinking soda from a lightweight, resealable plastic bottle, that's what we're going to want. Since companies are in the business of giving (or rather, selling) people what they want, the free market equation will never add up to truly sustainable change.

Companies like Coca-Cola find themselves in a position of having to appease the social movement toward sustainability while also appeasing customers who don't want to make the changes necessary to support that movement. Perez makes it sound like Coca-Cola is trying to gently nudge consumers in a more environmentally responsible direction. "As we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are," she says. "They will change with us."

Is that enough, though? Not according to people on the front line of the plastic crisis. "Recent commitments by corporations like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo to address the crisis unfortunately continue to rely on false solutions like replacing plastic with paper or bioplastics and relying more heavily on a broken global recycling system," Abigail Aguilar, Greenpeace Southeast Asia plastic campaign coordinator, said in a press release in October. "These strategies largely protect the outdated throwaway business model that caused the plastic pollution crisis, and will do nothing to prevent these brands from being named the top polluters again in the future."

RELATED: We haven't just paved paradise—we've plastered it in plastic

Of course, the question of what would replace plastic bottles and whether or not the alternatives are sustainable remains. Perez claims that switching to glass and aluminum may actually increase the company's carbon footprint—a related but separate issue from the plastic pollution problem.

But ultimately, the question we all need to ask ourselves is, "Whose problem is this and who needs to solve it?" Some people don't want the government to implement regulations forcing companies to adopt sustainable practices. Some put faith in individuals and industry to figure out how to get what we all want while not destroying the earth in the process. But we have plenty of evidence that consumerism (i.e., capitalism) is what got us here, and also evidence that laws and regulations can effect real change. Remember the ozone layer crisis? The Montreal Protocol of 1987, which required countries to phase out ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), proved successful at mitigating a clear environmental challenge. Would companies have voluntarily eliminated CFCs and found alternatives if they weren't obligated to by law? In the 1980s? When Aqua Net hair spray was at its prime? Not likely.

That being said, regulations are only effective if they are actually implemented, and the current method of making international agreements that aren't really binding can only go so far. As climate change activist Greta Thunberg keeps pointing out, the politics and processes needed to truly address our environmental crises do not currently exist. It's vital that we consult about how to actually solve problems like plastic pollution, but one thing is clear—relying on the free market isn't going to get us there.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Among many notable moments in Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, Amanda Gorman's recitation of her original poem "The Hill We Climb" stood out as a punctuation mark on the day.

It's perhaps fitting that Gorman herself stands out in several ways. The 22-year-old former National Youth Poet Laureate is the youngest poet to compose and deliver an inaugural poem. Like Joe Biden, she struggled with a speech impediment as a child, which makes reciting her poetry in an event broadcast around the globe all the more impressive. But what's most striking in this moment is what she represents—the bright and hopeful future of America.

For four years, we've had an administration focused on reversing progress and taking the country backwards to a mythical era in which the country was better. The slogan "Make America Great Again" has always implied a yearning to return to some kind of ideal past—one which, in reality, didn't exist (unless you're actually into white supremacy). The U.S. was built on high ideals but has always grappled with the advancement of some at the expense of others, with the legacy of racism and sexism ever-present in our politics, and with injustice being inseparable from our imbalance of political power.

Today, though, we marked a distinct shift in that balance of power. We swore in our first female vice president, in addition to our first non-white vice president. And in adding the voice of a young, Black, female poet to artfully contextualize the occasion, we see an emphasis in leaning into that shift. In Amanda Gorman, we see an America looking to the future as we honestly assess our past.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.