The results are in, and we now know who the world’s top three plastic polluters are; but can you guess which companies are most lacking in an environmental action plan to tackle their reliance on single-use plastics?
The numbers come from Break Free From Plastic Organisation, who says that the world’s top three plastic polluters have made almost “zero progress” in the past few years in cleaning up their environmental management policies.
Break Free From Plastic conducted its annual audit of plastic pollution, which enlisted the help of 15,000 volunteers based in 55 countries around the world to identify the origin of the most common polluted plastic items. This year’s audit saw the team analyse more than 346,494 pieces of plastic pollution, 63% of which was said to have a clear label linked to popular brands.
The issue of plastic pollution is a significant one. According to data from a 2017 study, more than 91% of the plastic waste that has been created has not been recycled or reused, and ends up either in landfills or being burnt.
The authors of the report say that it’s imperative that large scale plastic manufacturers look to curb business as usual, stating that plastic production is at risk of doubling by 2030, and could triple by 2050.
The World’s Top Three Plastic Polluters
According to the data from Break Free From Plastic, Coca Cola took out the top spot of plastic pollution around the globe after the team of volunteers found its plastic bottles in 51 of the 55 of the sites around the world. That was an even worse result for Coca Cola after last year’s plastic audit found evidence of its products on 37 of the 51 countries that the organisation studied.
Authors of the report say that 13,834 Coca Cola-branded plastic products were found in their analysis, which was more than the second and third-place holders combined.
This is the third year in a row that Break Free From Plastic has named Coca-Cola the world’s worst plastic polluting brand; we reported on last year’s findings here.
Nestle took out the second spot on the list of world’s worst plastic polluters after volunteers found 8,633 plastic products with the French brand’s branding on it, while PepsiCo took out third place with 5,155 plastic products found by the Break Free From Plastic Team. They were followed by Unilever in fourth place and Mondelez International who took out fifth spot on the list of world’s worst plastic polluters.
Emma Priestland, Global Campaign Coordinator with Break Free From Plastic has said that “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.”
“Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle should be leading the way in finding real solutions to reinvent how they deliver their products,” Preistland added, suggesting that the companies adopt a model of reuse for its products, rather than continue to produce single-use plastic products.
Authors of the report say that single-use consumer packets, the sample-sized sachets that you often find packaging shampoo, makeup products and coffee were the most common form of plastic pollution, followed by cigarette buts and single-use plastic bottles.
Simon Mbata, national coordinator of the South African Waste Pickers Association has told The Guardian that “the majority of plastic we come across cannot be recycled. We find it everywhere, in our waste stream, on our land. When it is buried, it contaminates our soil. Whatever cannot be recycled must not be produced,” he said.
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola has told The Guardian that it disputes the claim that zero effort has been made to improve its environmental management practices, adding that the company is collaborating with its partners to improve the sustainability of its products.
“Globally, we have a commitment to get every bottle back by 2030, so that none of it ends up as litter or in the oceans, and the plastic can be recycled into new bottles” the company said. “Bottles with 100% recycled plastic are now available in 18 markets around the world, and this is continually growing.”
The Coca-Cola spokesperson added that “more than 20% of our portfolio comes in refillable or fountain packaging.”
Nestle has also issued a statement in response to the report, stating that the company as making “meaningful progress” toward sustainability in its product lineup, adding that “we are intensifying our actions to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and to reduce our use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period.”
“So far, 87% of our total packaging and 66% of our plastic packaging is recyclable or reusable,” Nestle said.
PepsiCo responded to the news, too, stating that the company had implemented a set of environmental goals that include “decreasing virgin plastic in our beverage business by 35% by 2025,” while adding the company was “growing refill and reuse through businesses like SodaStream, which we expect will avoid 67bn single-use plastic bottles through 2025.”
PepsiCo added that it was investing more than $65 million into plastic collection efforts and recycling infrastructure around the globe.
We’ve reported previously that Coca-Cola’s Head of Sustainability has said the company will stick with the single-use bottle, citing customer demand for products that are lightweight and easily resealed.
“Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers,” Coca-Cola’s head of Sustainability told a summit in Davos, Switzerland. “As we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us,” she said.
“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,” says Greenpeace’s Plastic Campaign Regional Coordinator, Abigail Aguilar.
“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. To stop this mess and combat climate change, multinationals like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle must end their addiction to single-use packaging and move away from fossil fuels,” she said.
Don’t forget to check out our News page for the latest industry-relevant news, how-to guides and ISO-explainers