American brands top list of world’s worst plastic polluters

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America’s top household brands are also the world’s most prolific plastic producers — much of which lands in our waters, wilds and inside our bodies.

For the third year in a row, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Nestlé, a Swiss company, ranked highest in the amount of plastic pollution they create, according to an annual audit by the Break Free From Plastic Campaign.

Their top-10 list also features powerhouse conglomerates Mondelēz, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and Colgate Palmolive. Unilever, based in the UK, and Dutch-Italian candymaker Perfetti van Melle round out the global report, titled “BRANDED Vol III: Demanding Corporate Accountability for Plastic Pollution,” with US-based brands dominating the list.

The annual audit is made possible by concerned citizens from around the globe who volunteer to collect, count and record litter in their communities. In 2020, 14,734 participants in 55 countries found 346,494 pieces of plastic waste that didn’t make it to a trashcan or landfill; 63% of the refuse gathered still had a clearly marked label or logo and were added to the brand survey. In all, 5,000 brands from around the world were cataloged.

Coke was the most wasteful by far, accounting for 13,834 pieces of plastic last year across 51 countries. In second place, PepsiCo contributed 5,155 pieces throughout 43 countries; Nestlé claimed 8,633 hunks of plastic — more than Pepsi, but across fewer countries at 37.

Abigail Aguilar, a campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said this year’s analysis was “not surprising” in a statement on BreakFreeFromPlastic.org.

“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,” she said. “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.”

BFFP authors cited a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Program regarding progress made towards the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which pledged to eliminate “virgin” plastics by 2025. They found the more than 250 businesses involved in the agreement — including the aforementioned brands — had reduced their consumption of single-use plastics by only 0.1% between 2018 and 2019.

“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,” said BFFP campaign coordinator Emma Priestland. “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.”

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