Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever dump plastic pollution

Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever dump half a MILLION tonnes of plastic pollution in six poor countries, damning report finds

  • Plastic in Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, India, China and The Philippines was studied
  • The companies produce the equivalent of 4.6 million tonnes of CO3 annually 
  • coca-Cola was the worst of the four companies with 200,000 tonnes of plastic 

Four multi-national companies – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six countries per year. 

A study by international relief agency Tearfund is the first to quantify the amount of plastic waste burnt in Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, India, China and The Philippines.

The plastic being burnt by the giant corporations creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year – the same as 2 million cars on UK roads.

Coca-Cola was the worst of the four companies – with 200,000 tonnes of plastic or about eight billion bottles burnt or dumped in those countries annually.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said they are talking to TearFund and ‘recognise that we have a responsibility to help solve the situation to reduce plastic waste.’

Tumaini Timotheo Mwende, a shop owner in Changanyikeni holds an empty bottle of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola was the worst of the four companies – with 200,000 tonnes of plastic or about eight billion bottles burnt or dumped in those countries annually

The ‘Burning Question’ report focused on the actions and responsibilities of four of the world’s biggest plastic polluters. 

Tearfund wanted to determine what impact the billions of single-use products sold by these companies was having on the environment in developing countries. 

They say the companies are selling single use plastic despite knowing packaging becomes pollution causing serious harm to the environment and people’s health. 

‘Such actions – with such knowledge – are morally indefensible,’ the charity said.

The study found that PepsiCo was the second worst plastic polluter after Coca-Cola with a plastic pollution footprint of 137,000 tonnes per year.

A PepsiCo spokesperson said: ‘Changing the way society makes, uses, and disposes of packaging is important and requires pulling a lot of levers. 

‘At PepsiCo, we want to help build a system where packaging never becomes waste. 

‘That’s why we’re working to reduce the amount of plastics we use and have set a target to, by 2025, decrease virgin plastic content across our beverage business by 35%.’

The study found that across the six countries, Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever create enough plastic pollution to cover 83 football pitches every day. 

That is enough plastic to fill more than one football pitch every 20 minutes. 

Nestle said the ‘The Burning Question report by Tearfund highlights the continued challenges we face as a society, in tackling the issue of packaging and plastic waste.

‘Nestlé is determined to look at every option to solve the complex challenges of packaging waste. We embrace multiple solutions that can have an impact now for our consumers and communities.’

A Unilever spokesperson said: ‘We believe plastic has its place in delivering products safely and efficiently to consumers around the world. But the place for plastic is not in the environment.

A waste picker collecting plastic bottles at the university dump at twilight. A study by international relief agency Tearfund is the first to quantify the amount of plastic waste burnt in Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, India, China and The Philippines

Jonsoni Pita, a waste picker, picking waste along the riverbank. The plastic being burnt by the giant corporations creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year – the same as 2 million cars on UK roads

‘Our plastic is our responsibility and that’s why we are taking radical action at all points in the plastic loop.’

In 2019, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever published their global plastic footprint, outlining their impact on plastic pollution worldwide.

However, the companies have not yet disclosed their plastic packaging on a country-by-country basis (one of the calls of Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign). 

‘We have therefore attempted to do this for them for some countries,’ said Tearfund.

‘Our methodology has been independently reviewed by Resource Futures and leading academics in the field of solid waste management.’

The report claims that just 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling annually, and even in developed countries, recycling capacity often falls short of the total plastic use.

Going back to the football pitch analogy, Tearfund ranked the four countries in terms of the impact their plastic has on those six countries. 

Coca-Cola generates 33 football pitches worth of plastic, PepsiCo produces 22 pitches of plastic, Nestle is at 15 pitches and Unilever at 11 pitches. 

Plastic/ rubbish pollution in the River Tejipi. In 2019, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever published their global plastic footprint, outlining their impact on plastic pollution worldwide

PepsiCo said they will continue to tackle plastic pollution and pledge $51 milliont o global partnerships designed to boost recycling rates.

They say they have also reinvented the packaging they use by looking beyond the bottle through reusable platforms like SodaStream.

‘We aim to leverage our scale and reach to accelerate systemic change and meaningful progress through collaborative, holistic solutions,’ a spokesperson said. 

Tearfund says the plastic crisis around the world, while a problem in itself, is contributing significantly to the wider climate crisis.  

New academic analysis suggests that the greenhouse gas emissions from the open burning of waste could be highly significant. 

‘In this report, we present the first estimates of these emissions for each company in our six focus countries,’ Tearfund said. 

‘They give an indication of the scale of the problem. If all developing countries were included, the totals could be significantly higher.’ 

Coca-Cola generates 33 football pitches worth of plastic, PepsiCo produces 22 pitches of plastic, Nestle is at 15 pitches and Unilever at 11 pitches

Coca-Cola has emissions greater than the other three companies combined despite being the smallest of the four in terms of sales revenue. 

‘It is alarming that Coca-Cola have resisted calls to reduce their dependence on single-use plastic,’ the report says.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson, said ‘We are absolutely committed to ensuring the packaging in which we serve our products is sustainable and our efforts are focused on continuing to improve the eco-design and innovation of our packaging. 

‘As part of a number of global commitments, we have committed to getting every bottle back for each one sold by 2030, with the aim to ensure that every plastic bottle contains at least 50% recycled plastic by 2030.’

The company says plastic still has a role to play as a valuable resource which can be used again and again but are focused on removing it where possible.

‘As we work towards a circular packaging economy, collecting and recycling everything we use, including working with the informal waste-picking sector in many of the countries referenced, we are ultimately working towards the elimination of virgin oil-based plastics from our bottles.’ 

This is the first report to quantify the impact that the burning of plastic packaging belonging to the four major multinationals is having on the environment. 

‘Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever all claim to be concerned about global health and climate change,’ Tearfund says. 

‘However, in order to honour these climate and health ambitions, companies need to reduce dramatically the production and selling of single-use plastic packaging, and switch to refillable and reusable packaging.’

Nestle said: ‘Our vision is that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill nor in oceans, lakes and rivers. 

‘To achieve this, we have set ourselves the commitment to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. 

‘We are working hard to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and invest in innovative, alternative delivery systems, including bulk, reuse and refill options.   

The company says it regularly reports its annual usage of plastics and will be disclosing the number of units produced globally soon.

‘We are convinced that transparency by all actors is critical to achieving strong and collective action on the issue of plastic waste,’ Nestle said. 

‘To address the global issue of plastic packaging waste effectively, we must work collaboratively with industry, local and national governments, civil society and consumers. 

‘As part of this approach, Nestlé will take an active role in the development of well-functioning collection, sorting and recycling schemes across the countries where we operate. ‘

The companies all talk about the need for a circular plastic economy with a mixture of recycling, reuse and refill.

‘Pressure is building. Out-dated packaging models will leave companies increasingly exposed,’ said Tearfund.

A truck offloading plastic bottles at the site of a plastic bottle collecting company in Kinyamwezi. The report claims that just 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling annually, and even in developed countries, recycling capacity often falls short of the total plastic use

‘Refill and reuse delivery mechanisms are being adopted in some contexts. On the whole, however, examples of multinational companies adopting alternative delivery mechanisms in developing countries are still few and far between,’ the charity said. 

‘There are a few positive cases showing what is possible, such as Unilever using Algramo’s mobile dispensing delivery system to offer refills to customers in Chile and the use of returnable Coca-Cola PET bottles in Brazil being scaled up. 

‘These examples show moving to refill and reuse models is possible when the solution is well tailored to the context and there are decision-makers in companies who are willing to think outside the (single-use plastic) box.’

Nestle says successful recycling requires and adequate infrastructure – something not always in place in countries.

‘We have identified 17 ‘first mover’ countries where we are focusing efforts to increase recycling rates, and a further 12 countries where we are focusing on achieving plastics neutrality,’ a spokesperson said.

‘All our efforts combined will contribute to Nestlé’s goal to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.’  

Unilever says plastic reduction is a critical issue and have committed to halve their use of virgin plastic in packaging in five years.

They also aim to reduce their total use of plastic by more than 100,000 tonnes.

‘This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to packaging and products, and as we speak, we’re piloting different reuse and refill formats across the world, so we can test, learn and scale these solutions.,’ a Unilever spokesperson said.

Coca-Cola generates 33 football pitches worth of plastic, PepsiCo produces 22 pitches of plastic, Nestle is at 15 pitches and Unilever at 11 pitches

‘In addition, we’ve committed to help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell by 2025 working with governments, NGOs and local community groups, to keep plastic in the economy and out of our rivers, streets and oceans.’

The products of Nestlé and Unilever are sold in more than 190 countries. For Coca ‑ Cola and PepsiCo, it’s more than 200 countries. 

From the world’s largest mega ‑ cities to the smallest, most remote African villages, their products are consumed by billions of people, day after day. 

But many of these products, once consumed, leave a lasting footprint in the form of single ‑ use plastic packaging waste,’ said Tearfund.

‘The companies cannot recycle their way out of this crisis. Governments are legislating to restrict single- use plastic packaging and mounting public pressure is likely to overwhelm corporate objections,’ the charity said in its report.

‘At the time of writing, only Unilever shows real signs of being willing to transform its business model. We argue now that if all of these multinationals want to have longevity, they need to change. 

‘They need to invest and innovate, and as the world’s leading brands and companies, they need to lead. 

‘Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever all claim to be concerned about global health and about climate change. Their websites and annual reports make grand commitments to contribute to better health and environmental goals. 

‘However, as this report has established, in order to fulfil these climate and health ambitions, companies need to reduce their plastic footprint and switch to refillable and reusable packaging.’

HOW MUCH RECYCLING ENDS UP IN LANDFILL?

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed. 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 

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