Food & the city economy: Recycling food & drink packaging

I’m looking again at the economic successes — and the costs of the food and drink sector. I realised that the data I had about packaging was a tad out of date.

Getting the vast quantities of safe, nutritious food needed by the millions of us who live in cities takes sophisticated processing and logistics — even of fresh produce. It’s therefore big business. See, for example, the Packaging Federation or the British Frozen Food Federation figures.

People in the industry, too, work hard to minimise the impact of packaging on the environment.

But it’s still a huge task for cities to recycle or otherwise dispose of food and drink packaging. For the most part, too, these are costs borne by local public waste disposal services, mitigated only in part by income streams from, for example, value extracted through energy generation or recycling.

To give you an idea of the scale of the challenge, I went through again the figures for Coca Cola cans and bottles put into our waste systems or just discarded.

It comes to a staggering ~132M cans and bottles a year. From Coca Cola alone. And here’s how I came to that figure:

  • In April 2017, Greenpeace published figures which indicated 16M Coca Cola bottles are somehow disposed of every day in the UK. (I assumed 65M people in the UK, 1.1M people in Birmingham = 89.85M/year bottles discarded here)
  • The Coca Cola UK says they sell 2.5bn cans of soft drinks per year in the UK. (Using the same population figures, this indicates 42.3M cans/year are sold in Birmingham.)
  • 89.85M + 42.3M = 132.16M

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