Bea Perez told the BBC at Davos 2020 that customers like plastic bottles because they reseal and are lightweight.
Perez said the soft drinks giant could not stop using plastic bottles completely, as this could alienate customers and hit sales; additionally, she said using only aluminium and glass packaging could push up the firm’s carbon footprint – another key argument by plastic packaging firms.
Despite pledging to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2030, environmental campaigners say many Coke bottles would still go uncollected and end up in landfill. The packaging industry almost universally insists the problem is as much about consumer littering habits as it is about the format of the packaging.
Last year both Coca-Cola and Pepsi told Packaging News the problem of plastic waste was primarily a littering issue.
Tim Brett, president of Coca-Cola Europe, said: “I really believe strongly we don’t have a packaging problem. We have a waste problem and a litter problem. There is nothing wrong with packaging, as long as we get that packaging back, we recycle it and then we reuse it again.
“Packaging per se is not the problem. It’s the packaging that ends up in landfill or in litter. That sounds jarring when you first hear it and I am not denying there is a packaging waste problem – but it is not necessarily the material.”
He added that nothing was wrong with plastic bottles but there is a problem with them ending up in the sea or landfill.
Simon Lowden, president and chief marketing officer – global foods at PepsiCo, doubled down on Brett’s comments. “We absolutely agree with that. Packaging is a necessity, and it is about safety as much as anything else. It’s the education of the use after, and the materials used to build the packaging, but it’s not packaging per se that’s the issue – it’s how we use it pre and post. I couldn’t agree more with what Tim said. We should be very careful that we don’t think of packaging being a demon. What we do with it afterwards is the job we have to focus on.”
The brands are seen as some of the world’s biggest plastic waste polluters.
Perez added the firm recognised it now had to be “part of the solution”.
“Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers.
“So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us.”