Once again, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the world’s worst plastic pollution contributors, according to a recent global audit. This marks Coca-Cola’s second consecutive year as the world’s most polluting brand. Other companies identified as major global polluters include the Solo Cup Company and Colgate-Palmolive. In the U.S., Nestlé ranked #1 as the country’s worst polluter. The Solo Cup Company and Starbucks came next.
Lately, several major companies have announced their commitments to more sustainable practices. Yet, waste still seems to be piling up. Why is that?
Recycling not as impactful as claimed
The audit found that companies’ promises to make products “100% recyclable” weren’t doing much for the environment. In fact, only 9% plastic produced has actually been recycled around the world. According to the audit, the rest is either incinerated, sent to landfills, or continues to lay waste on the environment.
Just recycling is not a viable option, Von Hernandez says, the global coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement
“This report provides more evidence that corporations urgently need to do more to address the plastic pollution crisis they’ve created. Their continued reliance on single-use plastic packaging translates to pumping more throwaway plastic into the environment,” Hernandez said. “Recycling is not going to solve this problem.”
Creating “false solutions” to tackle plastic pollution crisis
Despite several corporations committed to improving “recyclability,” there are still design flaws. Greenpeace’s Southeast Asia plastic campaign coordinator, Abigail Aguilar, says this is due to companies offering “false solutions” to the plastic problem.
For instance, many companies design plastic that’s either too low-quality to recycle. Or, the plastic may have chemical additives or hard-to-separate layers that make it impossible to recycle. This is when “down-cycling” comes in, which is very common. So, even if materials can be reused, they often have a significantly lower value. Other practices Aguilar called out as “false solutions” included replacing plastic with paper or bioplastics.
“These strategies largely protect the outdated throwaway business model that caused the plastic pollution crisis,” Aguilar said. “And (they) will do nothing to prevent these brands from being named the top polluters again in the future.”
Are companies’ sustainability goals all talk?
Break Free From Plastic movement conducted the audit with aim to effectively tackle the plastic pollution crisis on a global scale.
For the audit, over 72,540 volunteers visited more than 51 countries to conduct 484 brand audits. Volunteers found over 475,000 pieces of plastic trash and cataloged over 8,000 different brands in their audits.
Major companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo recently announced plans to reduce plastic waste. A few months ago, both companies even cut ties with a prominent plastic lobbying group. Still, their track record continues to show high waste produced. So, what does this mean?
Coca-Cola responds to plastic pollution report
For Coca-Cola, volunteers recorded more than 11,732 plastics from 37 different countries. Alone, Coca-Cola accounted for 2.5% of the total plastic waste collected.
Coca-Cola told The Daily News they were working to reduce plastic pollution and help with cleanup efforts.
“Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans—or anywhere that it doesn’t belong—is unacceptable to us. In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution.”
Every minute, a million plastic bottles are sold globally. Every day, the plastic pollution crisis seems to grow. However, by pressuring companies for more transparency and genuine commitment to their sustainability goals, significantly reducing plastic waste may not be so impossible after all.