Plastic pollution is one of the most severe environmental problems in the world, and multinational companies are largely to blame, according to a new report. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé named the world’s top plastic polluters for the third year in a row, facing increasing criticism for their lack of action.
The Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit, an annual citizen action initiative that involves counting the brands on plastic waste found in communities across the globe, collected 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries, quantifying where the plastic comes from. The top waste polluting companies were the same as in previous years.
“It’s not surprising to see the same big brands on the podium as the world’s top plastic polluters for three years in a row. These companies claim to be addressing the plastic crisis yet they continue to invest in false solutions while teaming up with oil companies to produce even more plastic,” said Abigail Aguilar, campaigner.
A total of 13,834 branded Coca-Cola plastics were recorded in 51 countries, more plastic than the next two top global polluters combined. These results amount to a significant increase, as the report recorded 2,102 more Coca-Cola plastic items in 14 more countries in 2020 than in last year’s global brand audit.
Coca-Cola was harshly questioned by environmental campaigners earlier this year when it announced it would not abandon plastic bottles claiming they were popular with customers. The company produces about three million tons of plastic packaging a year, the equivalent of 200,000 bottles a minute.
PepsiCo branding was found on 5,155 in 43 countries and Nestlé branding on 8,633 in 37 countries, the second and third most significant polluters, the report showed. This represents an increase in the number of plastic products registered last year and from the number of countries in which they were reported.
Across the world, the most common product types found in plastic waste were food packagings, such as food wrappers, sachets, coffee cup lids, and beverage bottles; smoking materials, such as cigarette butts; and household products, such as shampoo and laundry detergent bottles. More than 14,000 volunteers tracked the materials.
A total of 64,000 sachets were collected, the single plastic product most found, followed by 60,344 cigarette butts and 50,968 plastic bottles. Since this year’s global audit was done amid the new coronavirus pandemic, volunteers also recorded 770 discarded surgical masks and 419 surgical gloves. Most of the items were found outdoors.
“The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging. We need to stop plastic production, phase out single-use and implement robust reuse systems,” said Emma Priestland, campaigns coordinator.
The campaigners behind the report said the top polluters must reveal how much single-use plastic they use, then set clear, measurable targets for reducing the quantity of single-use plastic items they produce. Finally, they must reinvent their product delivery systems to move beyond single-use plastic altogether. It’s not an easy task by any mean, but if this type of process doesn’t happen, our plastic pollution problem will only get worse.
Seven of the top polluters—Coca-Cola; PepsiCo; Nestlé; Unilever; Mondelez; Mars; and Colgate-Palmolive—have joined The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, an initiative to change the plastic system. Still, the signatories have only reduced their use of virgin (unrecycled) plastic by only 0.1% from 2018 to 2019.
Speaking with The Guardian, Coca-Cola disputed the claim that it wasn’t making progress and said it’s working to address packaging waste. PepsiCo said to be doing the same with partnerships, innovation, and investment, while Nestlé said to be making significant progress in sustainable packaging.
Worldwide, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, half of which is used to design single-use items such as shopping bags, cups, and straws. Around eight million tons are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain. According to a recent study, people ingest up to 5 grams of plastic a week.
The 10 Worst Polluters are:
Coca-Cola in 51 countries with 13,834 plastics.
PepsiCo in 43 countries with 5,155 plastics.
Nestlé in 37 countries with 8,633 plastics.
Unilever in 37 countries with 5,558 plastics.
Mondelēz International in 34 countries with 1,171 plastics.
Mars in 32 countries with 678 plastics.
P&G in 29 countries with 3,535 plastics.
Phillip Morris International in 28 countries with 2,593 plastics.
Colgate Palmolive in 24 countries with 5,991 plastics.