Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle are the three biggest plastic polluters in the world, according to an global audit of litter picked up on beaches, streets and waterways. The study involved thousands of volunteers sorting 187,000 pieces of rubbish in 42 different countries, and identifying the main brands behind the plastic in each continent.
There’s a little variety internationally. Perfetti Van Melle, maker of Chupa Chups and Mentos, was in the top three in Asia, alongside Coke and the Mondelez corporation. Africa had higher representation from Proctor and Gamble. Australia had McDonalds in the top three, but the US didn’t. Across the Americas and Europe, it’s Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle, the same order as the global problem.
The study was conducted by Break Free From Plastic, who argue that corporations need “to accept responsibility for the full life-cycle impacts of their products and the packaging in which their products are sold.” It’s easy to point the finger at the consumers who have thrown the litter away, but in many places there aren’t formal systems to deal with waste effectively. Where there is, waste collection is often handled by city authorities or the government. Why should creating waste be for profit, but disposing of waste be left to governments?
Some companies on this list of shame have better policies than others. As the motherlode of plastic pollution, Coca Cola is aware of the problem and their role in it. “The world has a packaging problem that we have a responsibility to help solve” they acknowledge. Their plans include 100% recyclable packaging by 2025, but that’s a long way off and does nothing to pay for the actual recycling. It’s the investment in recycling systems in middle income countries that is the biggest factor in plastic pollution.
There are lots of other ideas for reining in plastic pollution, including bottle deposit schemes and reducing demand for plastic bottles by providing water fountains and refills. And there are countries in the world that aren’t prepared to wait around. Costa Rica, as if there wasn’t enough to celebrate about the place already, intends to ban all single use plastics by 2021. The city of New Delhi has made a similar commitment, along with Vanuatu. Many other places are cracking down on one thing at a time, like the plastic bag ban in Britain, or France banning plastic cutlery.
In the meantime, if you drink Coke, let them know you’ve seen their position in the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit Report. Tell them that if you don’t see faster action on plastics, you’ll start drinking Pepsi. Unless you prefer Pepsi already, in which case vice versa.