For the second consecutive year, Coca-Cola was found to be the most polluting brand, according to a global audit of plastic trash by the Break Free From Plastic global movement, which found that the company was responsible for more plastic litter than the next top three polluters combined.
The audit was based on a full day cleanup in September, with over 72,000 volunteers that picked up plastic bottles, cups, and bags from beaches, waterways, and streets. The plastic they found was traced back to 8,000 brands, but Coca-Cola was the main one, responsible for 11,732 pieces of plastic litter found in 37 countries.
After Coca-Cola, the next biggest contributors to the plastic pollution in the audit were Nestle, PepsiCo, Mondelez International — purveyor of snack brands like Oreo, Ritz, Nabisco, and Nutter Butter — and Unilever. More than half of the plastic had eroded to the point where it was impossible to discern who had produced it.
In Africa and Europe Coca-Cola was the main source of plastic while ranking second in Asia and South America. In North America, the company responsible for the most plastic found in the cleanups was Nestle, followed by the Solo Cup Company, owned by the Dart Container Corporation, and Starbucks.
In a statement, Coca-Cola said: “Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans — or anywhere that it doesn’t belong— is unacceptable to us. In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution.”
The company said to be investing locally in all markets to increase recovery of its bottles and cans as well as investing to accelerate innovations to reduce waste, such as new recycling technology that could allow recycling poor quality PET plastic, usually destined for incineration or landfills.
Earlier this month, Coke introduced a plastic bottle made from recycled marine plastic, and last year the company pledged to collect and recycle “the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally.” This shows an attempt by the company to maintain an image as an environmental leader.
Nevertheless, other recent evidence undermines Coca-Cola’s green image. Leaked audio obtained by The Intercept showed how Coke-funded organizations undermine bottle bills. Meanwhile, European environmentalists say that the company has been interfering with their efforts to combat plastic pollution.