The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Nestle have been accused of making “zero progress” in tackling plastic pollution, after being ranked the world’s top plastic polluters for the third year in a row.
Coca-Cola was ranked the worst offender of 2020 by Break Free From Plastic, in its report, ‘BRANDED Vol III: Demanding Corporate Accountability for Plastic Pollution’, with the company’s plastic bottles the most found globally by Break Free’s members, allies and 14,734 volunteers.
This year, Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit collected 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries.
In addition, this year’s brand audit takes a special look at the essential work of informal waste pickers, predominantly in the Global South, and the impact low value single-use plastic has on their livelihoods.
“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,” Abigail Aguilar, Plastics Campaign regional coordinator, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“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 Nestlé must end their addiction to single-use plastic packaging and move away from fossil fuels.”
In the latest report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Break Free said it was made clear that these corporations “have made zero progress in addressing the plastic pollution crisis”.
Single-use plastic has devastating effects not only on our earth but for frontline communities around the world. Waste pickers and community members in the Global South are witnessing the rapid escalation of low-grade single-use plastic packaging being aggressively placed in the market by major multinational corporations.
“Corporations rely on informal waste workers to collect their packaging, allowing them to meet sustainability commitments and justify their use of high quantities of single-use plastic packaging,” Lakshmi Narayan, co-founder of SWaCH Waste Picker Cooperative in Pune, India, said.
“Yet the current shift to lower value plastic packaging is threatening the livelihoods of the waste pickers, who cannot resell such low-grade items. The systems that waste pickers operate in must change.”
Break Free said multinational corporations need to take full responsibility for the externalised cost of their single-use plastic products, such as the costs of waste collection, treatment and the environmental damage caused by them.
“If business as usual continues, plastic production could double by 2030 and even triple by 2050. Time is running out,” Break Free said in a statement.
“Top polluters are complicit in damaging frontline communities and continuing to pump out packaging that damages people’s health, wealth and environment. We need a just transition off of fossil fuels, and towards a circular economy,” Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres, 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,” Emma Priestland, global corporate campaigns coordinator, Break Free From Plastic, said.
“We need to stop plastic production, phase out single-use and implement robust, standardised reuse systems. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé should be leading the way in finding real solutions.”
In a statement to The Guardian, Coca-Cola said it was working to address packaging waste, in partnership with others, and disputed the claim that it was not 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,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.
“Bottles with 100 per cent recycled plastic are now available in 18 markets around the world, and this is continually growing.”
The spokesperson added that Coca-Cola had also reduced plastic use in secondary packaging and that globally “more than 20 per cent of our portfolio comes in refillable or fountain packaging”.
A spokesperson for told The Guardian that the company was taking action to tackle packaging through “partnership, innovation and investments”.
They said it has set plastic reduction goals “including decreasing virgin plastic in our beverage business by 35 per cent by 2025”. The spokesperson added that it was “growing refill and reuse through businesses like SodaStream and SodaStream Professional, which we expect will avoid 67bn single-use plastic bottles through 2025”.
The company was also investing in partnerships to increase recycling infrastructure and collection, pledging more than US$65 million since 2018, the spokesperson told The Guardian.
Nestle told The Guardian that the company was making “meaningful progress” in sustainable packaging, but recognised more was needed.
“We are intensifying our actions to make 100 per cent of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and to reduce our use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period,” a statement to The Guardian read.
“So far, 87 per cent of our total packaging and 66 per cent of our plastic packaging is recyclable or reusable.”
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