Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé found to be worst plastic polluters worldwide in global cleanups and brand audits

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October 09, 2018

250,000 back calls for EU legislators to tackle plastic pollution, as the most comprehensive snapshot of plastic polluting companies around the world reveals household-name brands are biggest offenders.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé were the most frequent companies identified in 239 cleanups and brand audits spanning 42 countries and six continents, the international Break Free From Plastic movement announced today.

Over 187,000 pieces of plastic rubbish were audited, identifying thousands of brands whose packaging relies on the single-use plastics that pollute our oceans and waterways globally. Coca-Cola was the top polluter in the global audit, with Coke-branded plastic pollution found in 40 of the 42 participating countries.

The audit is published as a 250,000-strong petition is delivered to members of the European Parliament calling for ambitious legislation to hold companies accountable for the plastic pollution they cause.

The audits, led by Break Free From Plastic member organizations, found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups, in that order. This ranking of multinational companies included only brands that were found in at least ten of the 42 participating countries. Overall, polystyrene, which is not recyclable in most locations, was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET, a material used in bottles, containers, and other packaging.

In Europe, the top polluters were the same as globally, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé accounting for 45 percent of the plastic pollution found in the European audits. This comes as the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament prepare to vote tomorrow on important legislation which could limit single-use plastics and hold producers to account.

In advance of this vote, international consumer watchdog SumOfUs, in partnership with  the Rethink Plastic alliance and Break Free From Plastic, launched a campaign demanding that polluters pay for their pollution. Their petition, delivered to the ENVI Committee today, has gathered more than 250,000 signatures in just over one week.  

“These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic Von Hernandez. “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”

"Plastic pollution needs to be more than just an image problem for brands. More than 250,000 have signed our petition to the European Parliament Environment Committee to hold companies responsible for the plastics they produce," said Eoin Dubsky, campaigner at SumOfUs. "The Single-Use Plastics Directive has the potential to turn the tide on plastic pollution. MEPs can be even more ambitious by enhancing business accountability, and not adding compromises for corporations. Only through ambitious legislation can MEPs keep pace with public opinion and lead in making a world free from plastic pollution reality.”

Break Free From Plastic is calling on corporations reduce their use of single-use plastic, redesign delivery systems to minimize or eliminate packaging, and take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are pumping into already strained waste management systems and the environment.

While the brand audits do not provide a complete picture of companies’ plastic pollution footprints, they are the best indication to date of the worst plastic polluters globally. The Break Free From Plastic movement is urging companies to end their reliance on single-use plastics, prioritizing innovation and alternative delivery systems for products.