Why you should stop drinking Coke
Let's have some fun with numbers. Specifically big numbers that are hard to comprehend with our monkey brains.
I recently read that Coca-Cola produce 110 billion plastic bottles every year (source: A study by Greenpeace).
That number is impossible to comprehend. Have you ever seen a billion of something? Would you even know if you had?
A rough calculation I found online guesstimates that one square meter of your local sandy beach, down to a depth of three meters, should hold about 163 billion grains of sand.
So yes, you probably have seen a billion of something and didn't know it.
How about interacting with a billion of something? What if I asked you to count to a billion, with each number taking exactly one second?
It would take one billion seconds. Which is around 277,777 hours, or 11,574 days, or nearly 32 years.
So basically if I had started counting when I was a one year old, I'd have just finished a couple of months ago.
And that's just one billion. Coca-Cola are producing 110 billion bottles. That would take 3,488 years to count.
That is a lot of stuff being created.
What would happen if you stacked those 110 billion bottles on top of each other?
A bottle is roughly 20cm tall (I'm being generous here and rounding down). So that means our bottles stacked would equal 2,200,000,000,000cm.
That is roughly 22,000,000 kilometers. That's 22 million. More than 13.5 million miles.
To put that in context, the moon is 384,400km away from the Earth.
The sun is 149.6 million km away from the Earth.
What does it all mean
Let's do some recycling.
We're going to build a ladder out of empty coke bottles. Each step on the ladder will require four bottles. Two bottles will stand upright and parallel to each other. The other two bottles will be joined together at their tops to create a rung. That rung is then joined to the tops of the two upright bottles.
Repeat that process to create each additional step on the ladder.
How big a ladder can we build with the bottles produced by Coca-Cola in one year?
First we divide the total bottle count by four, since each step requires four bottles. This gives us:
27.5 billion steps
Each step will be the height of a bottle plus the width of a bottle, which is roughly 25cm (rounded down to 25 for convenience).
So multiply the size of a step by the number of steps and we end up with a ladder with a height of roughly:
If we only wanted to use this ladder to get to the moon we could build 17 of them.
That is 17 ladders to the moon using only the plastic from the bottles produced by Coca-Cola in a single year.
Obviously we couldn't actually build these ladders, because physics, but Jesus Christ. That is a lot of plastic.
Even if every one of those bottles was recycled there is an insane amount of energy used to produce and fill them with disease causing sugary water. There is also a lot of energy required to actually recycle the bottles that do make it to a recycling facility. It’s also worth nothing that there is limit to the amount of times a piece of plastics can be recycled, so we’re not going to be getting any infinite Coke bottles any time soon.
But don't worry - we're banning plastic straws all over the place these days so the problem is basically solved.