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.

BreakFreeFromPlastic

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.”

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.

New enzyme cocktail digests plastic waste

Image made by CMCNEWG from a waste plastic image by Meaduva.

New enzyme cocktail digests plastic waste ‘six times faster’

A discovery by a University of Portsmouth team is seen as a ‘leap towards beating plastic waste’. The scientists who previously re-engineered the plastic-eating enzyme PETase, have created an enzyme ‘cocktail’ that can digest plastic up to six times faster. 

A second enzyme found in the same waste dwelling bacterium that lives on a diet of plastic bottles, has been combined with PETase to speed up the breakdown of plastic.  PETase breaks down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets, back into its building blocks, creating an opportunity to recycle plastic infinitely, reducing both plastic pollution and the greenhouse gases driving climate change.  PET takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment but PETase can shorten this time to days.

The same team have combined PETase and its ‘partner’, an enzyme called MHETase, to generate much bigger improvements; mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the speed of PET breakdown and engineering a connection between the two enzymes to create a ‘super-enzyme’, increased this activity by a further three times, a total of six times faster!.

The original PETase enzyme discovery raised the first hope that a solution to the problem of global plastic pollution might be within grasp, although PETase alone is not yet fast enough to make the process commercially viable to handle the tons of discarded PET bottles littering the planet. 

Combining it with a second enzyme and finding together they work even faster, means another leap forward has been taken towards finding a solution to plastic waste.  PETase and the new combined MHETase-PETase both work by digesting PET plastic and returning it to its original building blocks, which allows for plastics to be made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources such as oil and gas.

The appliance of science wins again!