Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Nestlé ranked as the ‘world’s top plastic polluters’ for the 3rd consecutive year

Ivan Radik, Flikr, CC

This year’s Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit – “BRANDED Vol III:  Demanding Corporate Accountability for Plastic Pollution” — an annual citizen action initiative that involves counting and documenting the brands on plastic waste found in communities across the globe, collected 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries.  This year’s audit also looked at the work of informal waste pickers, predominantly in the global South and impact low value single-use plastic has on their livelihoods.

Abigail Aguilar, Plastics Campaign Regional Coordinator, Greenpeace Southeast Asia says, “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 continue to invest in false solutions, while teaming up with oil companies to produce even more plastic.  The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution but instead they continue to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging.  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”.

The latest report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests these corporations have ‘made zero progress’ in addressing the plastic pollution crisis, according to Break Free From Plastic.  It says single-use plastic has ‘devastating effects’ not only on the 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.


Break Free From Plastic says 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.  The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution but instead are continuing to pump out harmful, single-use plastic packaging.  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 September the plastics industry, consumer brands and retailers were accused of ‘obstructing and undermining’ proposed legislative solutions to the plastic crisis in what has been called ‘two-faced hypocrisy’ (‘Talking Trash: The Corporate Playbook of False Solutions’ from the Changing Markets Foundation).

In response, Coca-Cola said “While we recognize the progress we’ve made against our 2030 World Without Wastegoals, we’re also committed to do more and faster, so that we grow our business the right way. We launched the first bottle containing recycled plastic (rPET) in 1991 and had a global goal of 25% rPET inclusion in our plastic bottles that we could not sustain, a missed opportunity we will learn from. We are confident about our current World Without Waste goals, despite them being more ambitious than our previous targets. Learning from past experience, engaging in new and existing partnerships – including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – and our commitment to make a difference in the communities where we operate, will help us achieve our ambitions. Our “World Without Waste” goals drive us to continually improve, working together with our approximately 225 bottling partners in more than 200 countries and territories.  Currently bottles with 100% recycled plastic are available in 18 markets around the world and growing. In recent weeks, the local Coca-Cola businesses in Norway and Netherlands announced that they are now using 100% rPET across their portfolio. In Great Britain we are preparing to announce we have reached 50% rPET across our packaging, another step in our journey to 100% rPET in all our packs.”

Tesco Cuts 20 Million Pieces of Plastic From Christmas Range

Image: Tesco

Tesco has removed over 20 million pieces of plastic from this year’s Christmas range. Crackers, lights, cards and puddings have all been produced using less single use plastic and has stopped using glitter for all single use products and packaging. Wrapping paper, gift bags, cards and crackers are all now glitter-free and widely recyclable.    Their own label crackers are now plastic free and will include non-plastic presents and be sold without plastic in cardboard packaging, cutting over 14 million pieces of plastic from the seasonal range.

312,000 Christmas lights will instead be sold in recyclable cardboard packaging.    Packs of Christmas cards are now plastic-free, with card multipacks sold in a recyclable cardboard box, saving 4.6 million pieces of plastic a year and a layer of plastic has been removed from Christmas puddings and sponges, removing 1.78 million pieces of plastic. 

Tesco found that 74% of us have sustainability in mind when making purchasing decision, an increase of 36% year-on-year. The research also found that 51% of the nation will reuse old Christmas decorations and 32% will only buy loose fruit and veg to reduce plastic packaging.  Nearly 23% will reuse wrapping paper, while 19% will try to be more sustainable by not buying gifts, wrapping or decorations made of plastic.  

The removal of plastic from Christmas products comes as development teams across Tesco have been looking for ways to use less plastic as a part of its 4Rs packaging strategy: To Remove it where it can. Reduce where it can’t.  Reuse  more. Recycle  what’s left. This will see Tesco remove all excess and non-recyclable material from its business.

Is the War on Plastics a Distraction?

Kate Ter Haar, Flikr CC.

An article by 13 environmental experts cautions that the current ‘war on plastics’ is detracting from bigger threats to the environment.  The experts say that while plastics waste is an issue, its prominence is overshadowing greater threats, such as climate change and biodiversity. The authors call on the media and others to ensure the realities of plastic pollution are not misrepresented particularly in public dissemination of the issue.  

They argue that much of the communication around plastics waste is based on data that does not always represent the environments that have been sampled.  The aversion to plastic associated with this could encourage the use of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful impacts.  The authors warn that the public’s concern has been “exploited politically” and that legislation including banning cosmetic microplastics, taxing plastic bags and financial incentives for using reusable containers and the promotion of products as being ‘green’ for containing less plastic, risks instilling a complacency in society towards other environmental problems that are not as tangible as plastic pollution.

The unprecedented engagement of the public with environmental issues, particularly plastic pollution, presents a once in a generation opportunity to promote other potentially greater environmental issues.  This is a key moment to highlight and address areas such as our throw-away culture in society and to overhaul waste management but if prioritising plastic waste continues the opportunity will be missed and at a greater cost to our environment.