20131216_115005When you brand single-use containers, you are signing your own garbage. These “brand impressions” last long after the marketing process ends, but does the pollution of the beaches and the oceans benefit your brand image or does it broadcast that your brand condones the proliferation of dangerous plastic trash? As single-use plastics break down into tiny pieces, and then into microscopic dust, many are ingested by fish that are eaten by bigger fish that are eventually eaten by us. What are the long run consequences to the planet and to us?

For Christmas this year we decided to do something different. We are giving the gift of our time, labor and support to a fledgling non-profit in Mazatlán Mexico. The Mazatlán Charitable Foundation is dedicated to helping non-profits in the Mazatlán area and throughout Mexico with organization, education and funding. While we are here, we will be participating in talks on Worthy Cause Marketing to business leaders and students, and joining a small group from the US to provide gifts to under-privileged children and to support various community improvement projects.

One such project was the beach at Las Labradas where famous petroglyphs lay testimony to the existence of an ancient civilization that once lived there. In amongst the petroglyphs lay the testimony of today’s civilization – single-use plastic containers. We spent several hours removing them from a mile of otherwise pristine beach in this auspicious place. The most prolific brand of single-use plastic containers was our own American brand, Coca-Cola. The big red label was making its brand impression over and over again, some with a Christmas wish in Spanish!

The next day we visited the historic village of El Quelite nestled in a beautiful river valley in lush green hills just north of the Tropic of Cancer. Our group helped clean the road leading to the town by picking up plastic candy wrappers, plastic bags and yes, you guessed it, Coca-Cola single-use plastic containers! Once again the brand was unmistakable, continuing to make impressions, but now polluting the entrance to a classic colonial village painstaking restored to become a tourist destination.

As American brand-builders, we have to admire the way Coca-Cola has become the world’s soft drink brand, but at the same time we are embarrassed to see its short-sited approach to packaging increasingly polluting the planet in even the most remote areas. Its well-branded packaging choices are giving an ever-more educated world an increasingly negative brand image. Branding doesn’t stop at purchase, or even consumption, it goes on as non-compostable, non-returnable garbage.

Sure, you can say that people shouldn’t pollute, and there are “please recycle” notices on packaging, and some great recycling and proactive educational programs available to change people’s habits. But the fact remains that the majority of single-use plastics still find their way on to the beaches, the road sides, the water tables, the oceans, and ultimately, the very food we eat.

The argument is that single-use plastics are cheaper to produce than returnable or bio-degradable containers. It may be cheaper for the producer but is it for the rest of us in the long run?

We live on an island, Island Earth. We can’t throw our single-use plastics “away.” There is no “away!” So why put your brand on a single-use plastic container that reveals that you are short-sighted and care more about profits for your company than the health of the world in which we live? When will we stop producing packaging that pollutes our environment and show the world we care about our future and our health? How about right now?