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Written by Campus Contracts Investigator PLANtern Sofia Mesa

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo want you to believe that individual consumption of single-use plastics is fueling the plastic and climate crisis, when really they are to blame. 

The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo rank number #1 and #2 respectively when it comes to global plastic pollution (1). There were 13,834 Coca-Cola products found in 51 different countries during the Break Free From Plastic 2020 Global Brand Audit. This marks the third year in a row Coca-Cola ranks number one on the planet for producing these unnecessary single-use plastics, yet Coke and Pepsi products continue to be found on some of the most sustainable universities across the country. 

Chances are, if you attend college in the United States, you will find Coca-Cola or PepsiCo all over your campus, and they pay a pretty penny to be there. These brands enter multimillion dollar contracts for the right (sometimes exclusive right) to provide drinks for all of campus life and for the positive marketing of being associated with universities and their athletic teams. Remember product placement in TV shows in the early 2000’s? It’s happening in real time here, and you’re the viewers and participants in this show.

These two soda brands overwhelm a captive student population with their products and greenwashing. Coke and Pepsi notoriously enter into these exclusive “pouring rights” contracts, meaning that only Coke or Pepsi drinks can be sold on campus, leaving many students with no other choice than drinking their products. 

Student activists shifting their campuses to be single-use plastic free often find barriers within these lengthy and cryptic legal contracts. They rarely include any language on sustainability, and often prioritize supplying the university with petroleum-based PET bottles and beverages made as cheaply as possible.

These cheap plastic materials cost our planet and its people a heavy bill of: toxic chemicals leaching from the plastic production and management processes, overflowing landfills, toxic ash releasing from incinerators, and these toxins ending up back in our food system when ingested by wildlife or when humans drink the microplastics in our water (2).

Some of the most successful legislation reducing plastic pollution has been actively fought against by these beverage companies (3). Refillable and returnable programs are seen as one of the most effective solutions to addressing the plastic pollution crisis because minimal resources are being wasted, jobs managing these systems are created, and the bottles continue in circularity. But these programs are impossible to run without the commitment of the vendor (in this case, Coke or Pepsi). 

Because of this, students have fought back, following a number of student protests, San Francisco State University choose to not renew their contract with Coke or Pepsi (Forbes). Additionally, the number of schools signing on to the Break Free From Plastic Pledge is growing, with Emory University being the latest to join, located in Coca’s Cola’s state headquarters. 

This Fall, we want to help you be the next school to #CutOutCoke or #PourOutPepsi. Join us as we participate in the 2021 #BreakFreeFromPlastic Global Brand Audit by hosting our first ever Fall 2021 Campus Brand Audit! Let’s get these polluters off your campus. 

(1) Branded vol. III, 2020 Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit Report; https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/globalbrandauditreport2020
(2) “Microplastics in Drinking Water,” World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241516198
(3) “How Coca Cola undermines Recycling Efforts, https://theintercept.com/2019/10/18/coca-cola-recycling-plastics-pollution/

Other Works Cited

BFFP Brand Audit Guide

San Francisco State University End Pouring Rights Contract – Forbes

How Coke and Pepsi Undermine Plastic Recycling Efforts

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