PepsiCo Original 20oz Pepsi

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Jessica Wilson
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When you hear of Pepsi, the first picture that pops into your mind is a plastic water bottle. They are the second-largest food and beverage company in the world. Basically the symbol of not being environmentally friendly. In the last few years, PepsiCo has tried to rebrand itself, claiming sustainability as a core one of its values. But is it really? They have some initiatives with potential, but if they are serious about sustainability they need to step it up.

What it's made of:


The ingredients in the US Pepsi differs from those in the UK, both products are heavy in sugar and unhealthy.

US- Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Sugar, Phosphoric Acid, Caffeine, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor

UK- Carbonated Water, Sugar, Colour (Caramel E150d), Phosphoric Acid, Flavourings (including Caffeine)


High fructose corn syrup is derived from corn starch with the use of three enzymes. The enzymes did not have a negative impact that I could find, but corn is substantially water-intensive. Sugar cane is also very water-intensive- taking almost 9 gallons of water per teaspoon of sugar cane- all the while fueling deforestation in Brazil. There are more sustainable alternatives such as palm sugar which requires little processing and the plant produces sap for 10-100 years. Caramel color is made from sugar cooked at high heat and pressure dependent on the wanted viscosity. It is likely that this is the same sugar used and is water-intensive. It seems like an unnecessary waste of resources and energy. Phosphoric acid is often added to carbonated beverages to give a more tangy flavor and is a preservative. A large intake of phosphoric acid has the potential to increase your body’s acidity, trigger kidney issues, and decrease your body’s utilization of nutrients. One study in the journal Epidemiology, found that drinking two or more colas a day, was associated with twice as great a risk of developing chronic kidney disease. Plus, phosphorus must be mined to create phosphoric acid, where runoff can pollute waterways while exposing workers to toxic pollutants. Citric acid is most often produced with the Submerged Culture Fermentation method that uses a carbon source, likely corn starch, which is water-intensive to produce.

How it's made:


Corn and sugarcane both require a substantial amount of water and fertilizer. It is not mentioned on PepsiCo’s agriculture sustainability page any initiatives to ensure the right amount of fertilizer is used. Excess fertilizer runs off into local waterways, causing algae blooms that lead to hypoxic conditions. In regards to corn, it is often grown through monoculture which degrades the soil quality and leads to runoff that can pollute local waterways. PepsiCo has planted 85,000 acres of cover crop, but given they have 7 million acres of farmland, most of their corn is still monoculture. 100% of the sugar cane is Bunsucro certified. However, given that PepsiCo does not explain in what ways that the sugar cane is sustainable, it leaves me believing that this certification does not hold much value. PepsiCo has identified areas with high water risk through World Water Resource Institute Aqueduct tool. They made a goal to improve water efficiency by 25% across operations in water-scarce areas by 2025. However, when looking into the World Water Resource Aqueduct tool, there is also a category for medium risk and future predictions. PepsiCo should go further and decrease water usage across all operations by at least 25%, especially to meet medium-risk and high-risk areas according to future scenarios. The only technology mentioned about water efficiency is irrigation scheduling technology, but this is only in 48,000 hectares, a small portion of their 7 million acres of farmland.

PepsiCo has a goal to spread regenerative farming practices to 7 million acres (almost their whole agricultural footprint) and sustainably source their main ingredients by 2030, including corn which is used in high fructose corn syrup. “Sustainably sourced” is said to be verified by a third party, but exactly who the third party is is not stated which makes me skeptical. They claim that in order to qualify they must have a measured improvement of carbon sequestration and one of the following: improved soil health, improved watershed health, improved biodiversity or improved livelihoods. But why not all of them? I am cautious because “improved” is a very vague term. PepsiCo originally had a goal to directly source all of their key ingredients by 2030, but was transparent that they fell short due to systematic barriers such as cultural norms, sociopolitical disruption, infrastructure deficiencies and, in some cases, lack of well-established legal systems. I appreciate the transparency, and how they stated that they will continue to establish sustainable sourcing in those areas. But if this is true, won’t they also have trouble changing the technology and practices on these farms to become more sustainable? Given their large influence, why can’t they develop strategies to improve the infrastructure for “infastructure deficiencies” In addition, they originally strived to sustainably source 100% of their key ingredients by 2020, and improved from 0% in 2016, but fell short with 87% in 2020. Given their large network, I think they made a lot of progress if “sustainable sourced” is reliable. PepsiCo does have some explained impressive initiates such as precision water irrigation, technology, potato peelings to energy and fertilizer, and “Demonstration Farms” that utilize regenerative agriculture practices and then open the farm up for other local farmers to learn and adapt their practices to further the impact. Therefore, I am not convinced that it is total greenwashing, but I do think there is a need for more information. How about percentages of each technology mentioned including cover crop, irrigation scheduling, and potato fertilizer, on all the farms? Furthermore, to show that sustainability is at the core like they claim, they should also establish goals for all of their ingredients to be sustainably sourced, not just the key ingredients.

The packaging is made of a PET plastic bottle (also available in a can) with a surrounding label. The cap and bottle is recyclable at most locations, but the label is not. PepsiCo aims for 100% of their packaging to be recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable and to be made of at least 25% recycled material by 2025. In 2021, they changed this goal to 50% by 2030, yet they have still only achieved 6% (4% in 2019), making me skeptical that they will follow through. Considering their statements such as, “Our vision is a world where packaging never becomes waste. PepsiCo recognizes the important role we play in driving toward a circular economy and reducing plastic waste. As a global food and beverage company, PepsiCo aims to use our reach and influence to help change the way society makes, uses and disposes of plastics,” I would like to see a more ambitious recycled material goal. They named a number of countries in the UK switching to all packaging made of 100% recycled plastic, so why not a more ambitious goal? 

In addition, they became part of the Carbios Consortium in 2019 and created a patented biological recycling technology that uses a novel enzyme to break down PET into its original building blocks” with “limited heat and no pressure or solvents.” Prior to this, plastic could not be infinitely recycled because the quality would decrease and chemical recycling was too expensive and energy-intensive. It is important that PepsiCo realizes this and is investing in a solution. Another barrier is that much of our recycling does not actually get recycled, but PepsiCo has countered this by stating they will drive demand for recycling and have invested 65 million globally to increase recycling rates and waste collection. This encompasses recycling infrastructure and education. I would like to PepsiCo to be more transparent with what recycling initiatives their money is going to. But why focus on improving recycling when you could transition to refill stations with reusable packaging?

Additionally, they claim “to be working on a number of sustainable solutions” to solve the issue that flexible packaging is not recyclable. These solutions include a pilot program of compostable packaging with the collaboration of Whole Foods and other small retailers in North America in 2021, a paper Dorito tube in the UK, and chip packet drop-offs. Unlike many other companies, I appreciate that PepsiCo has shown how they are planning to accomplish their goals and have a yearly progress report on their goals. However, it is very suspicious that they removed their goal for zero waste after the year 2018 from their goal sheet. In addition, they bragged on their website of how Australia reached 100% circularity through drop-off locations for unrecyclable packaging. This is not the solution, as not everyone will drop off their unrecyclable packaging. In addition, a shift to compostable packaging is positive but not if it is not backed by the infrastructure to commercially compost it. On their website, they highlight how 22 markets use 100% recycled material in their packaging. This inclines me to believe their focus is on good publicity, not to actually make a positive impact.

Who makes it:


PepsiCo sources its ingredients from 60 countries and over 7 million acres of farmland. From what I gathered, they did not include any information assuring fair treatment of workers or ensuring a living wage.  On their website, they brag about all the different donations/ charity projects they have made such as $570 million in the next 5 years to Black and Hispanic businesses and communities, $71 million to COVID relief, and $64.7 million to developing and implementing projects that improve resource access to women in developing countries. Without information on fair wages, I am skeptical that they actually care about their workers. They are a very established company and need to be more transparent with their labor practices and ingredient sourcing.