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Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé lead the ’10 worst plastic polluters’ of 2020

Break Free From Plastic says multinational corporations are pumping out so many single-use plastics that harmful plastic production could double by 2030.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé lead the ’10 worst plastic polluters’ of 2020
[Photo: Nick Fewings/Unsplash]

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé are the top plastic polluters of 2020, according to a new report by Break Free From Plastic, a group of almost 2,000 NGOs that monitor and expose plastic waste by the largest companies in the world.

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Coca-Cola had the dishonor of taking the crown as the worst plastic polluter of 2020, says the report. To compile the rankings, Break Free From Plastic mobilized 15,000 volunteers from around the world to identify and catalog discarded plastics across dozens of countries. In total, the volunteers cataloged 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries for the 2020 report.

That report found that Coca-Cola was by far the brand with the highest plastic waste impact of the group. Plastic waste made up of Coca-Cola products was found in 51 of the 55 countries. Arch-competitor PepsiCo didn’t fare much better. Plastic waste from its products was found in 43 of the 55 countries. The brands making up the top 10 list are as follows:

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. PepsiCo
  3. Nestlé
  4. Unilever
  5. Modelez International
  6. Mars
  7. P&G
  8. Phillip Morris International
  9. Colgate-Palmolive
  10. Perfetti van Melle

What’s most alarming is Break Free From Plastic says multinational corporations are pumping out so many single-use plastics that harmful plastic production could double by 2030 and possibly triple by 2050. Such increases would have a devastating impact on human health, ecological systems, and climate change.

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Announcing the 2020 report, Emma Priestland, global corporate campaigns coordinator of Break Free From Plastic, said, “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, standardized reuse systems. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé should be leading the way in finding real solutions.”

We’ve reached out to all the brands listed in this report and will update this post with any responses.

Update:

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A Nestlé spokesperson has responded with the following comment:

The latest “Break Free From Plastic” Brand Audit 2020 Report highlights the continued challenges we face as a society in tackling the issue of plastic packaging waste. We know we have an important role to play in shaping sustainable solutions to tackle the issue of plastics waste. 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. While we are making meaningful progress in sustainable packaging, we know that more needs to be done. Our ambition is to create a circular economy in which we eliminate waste and reuse the resources we already have.

A Unilever spokesperson sent the following statement:

“To tackle the root causes of plastic waste we need to think differently about packaging. That’s why we are using more recycled plastic, developing reusable and refillable formats and switching to ‘no plastic’ solutions. We continue to make progress on innovative changes that will help people cut their use of plastic for good. There’s more work to do, but we are fully committed to halving our use of virgin plastic by 2025.”

A Phillip Morris International spokesperson said:

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Plastic litter is a major global issue and cigarette butt littering adds to it. Post-consumer waste and litter prevention are priority topics in our Sustainability efforts. Earlier this year, Philip Morris International (PMI) announced in its Integrated Report the aim to achieve a 50 percent reduction of the plastic litter from its products by 2025 (vs. 2021 baseline).

Supporting this, PMI launched “Our World Is Not an Ashtray” in July 2020, a new global initiative to raise awareness and drive a long-term change in behavior and attitudes around cigarette butt littering. PMI is working with independent organizations to implement a data-driven approach and assess the prevalence of cigarette butt litter across the globe; identify litter hotspots; and, monitor the impact of anti-littering activities.

PMI is the only tobacco company which has committed to phasing out cigarettes completely. Already PMI estimates that approximately 11.7 million adult smokers around the world have already stopped smoking and switched to IQOS, PMI’s heated tobacco product. IQOS is not only a better option for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke, but our data show they are less likely to be littered than conventional cigarettes.

Coca-Cola replied:

In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical issue of packaging waste and are making progress. 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. Bottles with 100% recycled plastic are now available in 18 markets around the world, and this is continually growing. We’ve also reduced plastic use in secondary packaging and, across Europe, we are now using new paperboard technologies to hold can multipacks together without plastic. For package-less options, globally, more than 20% of our portfolio comes in refillable or fountain packaging.

Addressing plastic waste and recycling challenges requires collective and collaborative thinking and action from the best and the brightest, including others in the industry, the public sector and civil society. While we recognize the progress we’ve made against our World Without Waste goals, we’re also committed to do more, faster so that we grow our business the right way.

PepsiCo said:

PepsiCo firmly believes that packaging has no place in the environment and we’re taking action through partnership, innovation and investments to spur systemic change toward our vision of a world where plastic need never become waste. While setting ambitious plastic reduction goals, including decreasing virgin plastic in our beverage business by 35% by 2025, PepsiCo is also committed to growing refill and reuse through businesses like SodaStream and SodaStream Professional, which we expect will avoid 67 billion single-use plastic bottles through 2025. And, we are investing in partnerships to increase recycling infrastructure and collection, pledging more than $65 million since 2018. We have a multi-faceted approach to drive both immediate and long term progress– reducing the plastic we use, increasing recycling rates and building an economy for recycled material and reinventing our packaging to go Beyond the Bottle without single-use plastic.

Perfetti Van Melle replied:

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Conducting business in a manner that is socially and environmentally responsible is a core value. As such, we have in place a sustainability governance model, overseen by our Chief Sustainability Officer, Sustainability Steering Committee, and Executive Committee (which includes our chief officers and CEO).

Our packaging program is part of our larger Group Sustainability program so that globally we are working together to reduce our plastic packaging use, which is currently around 40,000 metric tons annually.

We have been making progress on reducing this use of plastic packaging and are planning a communication update, which will include our future group plastic packaging goals translated into three areas – Reduce, Recycle, and Recover. This update will be published externally through our corporate website in early 2021.

Working globally, we are taking an holistic approach to packaging development with considerable focus on its environmental impact. We comply with any governmental requirements within the countries where we do business.

Colgate-Palmolive said:

Colgate-Palmolive is working hard to create a healthier, more sustainable future for all. We know our responsibility to the people we serve and the world where we live. We’re on our way to eliminating one third of new plastics by 2025, as part of our overall transition to 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging. We’re using new packaging materials and product formats, testing refillable models, reinventing our toothbrushes and rolling out our groundbreaking recyclable toothpaste tube (others are following our lead).

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About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at MichaelGrothaus.com

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