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“Big soda’s plastic waste is at the heart of planetary health’s decline.”

Statement from Trish Cotter, Global Lead, Food Policy Program at Vital Strategies and Dan Kass, Senior Vice President, Environmental, Urban and Climate Health at Vital Strategies, on Earth Day 2024’s theme, “Planet vs. Plastics”:

April 19, 2024 (New York)—“Multinational soda companies are the world’s top plastic polluters AND major contributors to the global obesity and noncommunicable disease epidemics. Earth Day 2024’s focus on reducing plastic waste provides an opportunity to shine a light on the full scope of destructive activities of commercial actors like Big Soda.

The manufacture, transport and disposal of plastic bottles generates an enormous carbon footprint. The billions of plastic bottles that are not recycled each year end up in incinerators, in landfills, or are added to the mountains of plastic already polluting our environment and clogging waterways. In 2018, an estimated 21-34 billion plastic drink bottles were found in the world’s oceans—the equivalent of up to 1.1 million metric tons of plastic waste.

In addition, more than five liters of water are used to produce a single 1-liter sugary drink. The water used often comes from draining public reservoirs, contributing to water crises like the one in Monterrey, Mexico. Once these sugar-laden beverages are produced, consumption leads to increased risk of obesity and noncommunicable diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Companies responsible for all these harms must be held accountable. One crucial step is removing their influence from policymaking and highlighting examples of their interference when steps are taken to limit their damage.

Vital Strategies’ Food Policy Program has civil society partners in each of its five focus countries with the shared goal of creating healthier food environments through evidence-supported policies. Our partners are highlighting the devastation at the hands of soda companies in an effort to limit their influence. A short video, developed by our Brazil partners, Instituto de defensa de consumidores (Idec) and ACT Health Promotion, shows evidence of excessive plastic waste—one example of synergy across social movements to inform the public of the wide-ranging effects of bottled sugary drinks and create demand for change.

The statement authors firmly support The Global Plastic Treaty and encourage additional signatories to hold these companies accountable for their impacts on the environment and human health.

Earth Day is not only an opportunity to protect the planet, but also a chance to mobilize around our common goals to create meaningful, lasting progress toward health and equity.”

About Vital Strategies’ work in Food Policy:

The Food Policy Program (FPP) supports the enactment and evaluation of policy efforts that aim to move people toward healthier diets around the world. The program focuses its work in Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, Colombia and South Africa. FPP works with civil society organizations and research institutions to promote strong policies supported by the best available evidence, including raising taxes on sugary beverages, introducing front-of-package nutrient labels, limiting children’s exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing, and promoting healthy food policies for the public sector. With increased public and political support, our partners advocate for policy changes that reduce consumer demand for unhealthy foods and beverages, improve the food environment and make healthier choices accessible to all. Find out more and follow us Twitter @VitalStrat

About Vital Strategies’ work in Environmental Health 

The Environmental Health program has played a critical role in Vital’s work, leveraging the tools of public health to promote healthy and sustainable outcomes for people living in an increasingly urbanized world. Find out more and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat

Media Contact

Rachel Burns, Senior PR Manager, Food Policy Program; +1 (332) 259-6397