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World Environment Day: How Coca-Cola is restoring ecosystems

Building a sustainable environment has become a major concern.

Imagine a simple town, adorned with greenery so lush that it brightens the environment with clean air fit for human consumption, striking a balance between the elements.

Read Also: World Environment Day – FCMB Restates Commitment to Environmental Sustainability; Expands Support To Renewable Energy Sector

In many parts of the world, the current situation is a far cry from this. About 13 million tonnes of the world’s plastic waste end up in oceans, polluting the planet.

Plastic waste has been a major source of concern for environmentalist policymakers, so much that the United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres, called on world leaders to declare states of “climate emergency” in their respective countries to spur action to prevent “catastrophic” global warming in December 2020.

Guterres’s comments were made during his opening statement at the Climate Ambition Summit, a virtual gathering aimed at building momentum to ensure steeper cuts in planet-warming emissions on the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which Nigeria ratified in 2019.

While Nigeria commits to the Paris Accord, the reality back home suggests the work required to achieve the goals contained therein must be as meticulous.

Waterways are polluted by the indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste leading to flooding and threats to aquatic life. And with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a large portion of disposable face masks, face shields, hand sanitiser containers, rubber and plastic gloves, and more, along waterways and drainages.

A recent research study shows that 68 percent of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is indiscriminately dumped in Nigeria, with 20.80 percent is disposed of through inappropriate landfill sites and 10.70 percent burnt.

Additionally, according to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions inventory from 2000 to 2018, the contribution from inappropriate waste was 3 percent. This development is even more worrisome as this rate is expected to double within the next five years if preventive steps are not taken.

Nevertheless, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), made under the Paris Agreement, embodies the country’s efforts to reduce national emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change. It is also claimed that these efforts will pave way for a low carbon economy and result in about a 50 percent reduction in emissions.

While the projections, in this case, are optimistic, it is evident that the government’s efforts in tackling Nigeria’s long-standing waste crisis require a significant level of support from corporate organisations that have global reach and expertise, as well as developed policies and sustainability projects on sensitising the public about better practices to contribute to environmental and economic sustainability.

One of such companies that have shown an undeniable commitment to the cause is Coca-Cola, whose track record of sustainability initiatives is extensive.

Over the years, Coca-Cola has executed several community high-impact projects making a significant impact in communities where they do business, especially as regards the environment.

Coca-Cola’s show of foresight echoes as far back as 1917, during World War I, with the company’s participation in disaster relief efforts for decades, in partnership with The Red Cross.

From contributing to sustaining humanity and the livelihood of people, the company charged on to set up The Coca-Cola Foundation in 1984, ploughing back 1 percent of each previous year’s income, annually, to fund numerous social causes centred on women, water, waste and wellbeing, through the foundation.

Since the establishment of the foundation, a significant impact has been made in keeping the world’s water bodies cleaner and safer.

Worthy of note is Coca-Cola’s milestone completion of the 100 percent water replenishment drive five years before the planned completion date. One of such key initiatives was the partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), started in 2007, which targets five focus points: conserving the seven important freshwater basins, improving the company’s water efficiency, reducing the company’s carbon footprint, agricultural sustainability and inspiring others to take action.

To achieve the goals of the partnership, the company plays the role of a ‘big brother’ by inviting others to join in the cause, creating a sustainability loop that outlasts generations.

Two years later, the company launched the definitive water stewardship programme – the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN). Over the past decade, RAIN has improved access to clean water for communities, schools, and clinics across 41 African countries, enhanced access to hygiene and promoted better hygiene practices.

The programme has also enabled the economic empowerment of people by creating opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, and skills acquisition. In addition, RAIN has helped to protect critical watersheds, supported several African utilities in coping with the rapidly growing water demand in cities, and delivered essential hygiene items and personal protective equipment to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

RAIN involves the collective efforts of over 300 international and local public, private and civil society partners who have implemented various projects across numerous vulnerable communities.

As of March 2021, a staggering 6 million people have been impacted, more than 480,000 women and girls have been empowered, and over 454,500 hectares of land have seen improved management.

In tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) founded by the United Nations in 2015 and a considerable understanding that the onus to spark the desired change falls on the company, Coca-Cola expertly created the World Without Waste programme to drive home the importance of plastic recycling and to create initiatives that trigger a whirlwind of efforts towards plastic recycling and environmental sustainability.

Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste vision seeks to ensure that 100 percent of its consumer packaging is recyclable by 2025 while targeting the collection and recycling of an equivalent of 100 percent of its primary packaging by 2030.

The company has sponsored and supported various projects geared towards proper waste management and infrastructure that supports environmental sustainability, adopting a strategy focused on collaborations with local and specialised bodies to proffer solutions to improper waste management and its attendant implications.

To drive home its global mandate, Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited along with its bottling partner, Nigerian Bottling Company, in 2005 pioneered a partnership with a recycling company called Alkem to solve the plastic waste challenge in Nigeria.

A total of 24 buy-back centres and over 1 billion PET bottles were recycled into fibre under this partnership from 2005 to 2012. Additionally, more than 1800 direct and indirect jobs were created.

Another great milestone that has been recorded is the synergy with other committed top players in the industry, such as Nigerian Breweries, Seven-Up Bottling Company, Nigerian Bottling Company, Nestle, Guinness, Unilever among others, to create the Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA)–integrating efforts and expertise to build a sustainable recycling system for food and beverage waste and to combat the incessant littering of the environment.

In 2020, following the impact of COVID-19, Coca-Cola Nigeria partnered with a social benefit venture called RecyclePoints to launch a recycling programme called ‘Project Revive’.

The programme is a community-based recycling initiative to support low-income communities that have been hard-hit by the economic challenges of COVID-19, to earn a living while keeping their environment clean. The project has set up more than five buy-back centres within communities like Sangotedo, Shomolu, Lekki, Ikorodu and Ojo, amongst others.

Since its inauguration, the scheme has attracted over 600 registered subscribers who have continuously earned a living while keeping their immediate community clean.

On the innovation front, Coca-Cola launched an all-new clear packaging for its Sprite brand in November 2020 to strengthen its prospects for recycling. The new transparent PET bottle is a shift from its iconic green-coloured packaging and signals the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint across the world.

“We’re journeying to a World Without Waste, which means more of our plastic packaging can be collected, recycled and reused to make new bottles. For us at Coca-Cola, clear is better and we’re working to slowly phase out our coloured packaging as clear bottles are easier to recycle,” Nwamaka Onyemelukwe, Coca-Cola Nigeria’s public affairs, communications and sustainability director, said.

Other eco-friendly initiatives funded through the company’s philanthropic arm, The Coca-Cola Foundation, in Nigeria includes the RESWAYE, which recently concluded with over 159,000kg of plastic waste removed from coastlines and shorelines in Lagos; RecyclesPay, Cash 4 Trash, Clean Up Naija, Mission Zero Plastic, Waste in the City, Waste to Strap, Waste to Wealth, Project DORI amongst others.

For Coca-Cola’s commitment to championing sustainable living, multiple awards and recognitions have been received. The company has received the Sustainability Enterprise and Responsibility (SERAS) Awards consistently, since 2015, in diverse award categories, for its unflinching drive for sustainability and its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

The most recent being the Best Company in the Social Enterprise and Innovation categories (2020) and the Most Outstanding Social Impact Award (2021) in the just concluded Lagos Waste Forum, to mention a few.

Coca-Cola has championed major sustainability initiatives by investing over $2.8 million, recycling over 1.5 billion bottles and contributing, directly and indirectly, to the creation of over 2000 jobs across target countries.

The company has shown that sustainable environmental wellness can be achieved and has led by example. With concerted contributions from every individual, company, and relevant interest group, clean and green earth is possible – a waste-free utopia come true.

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