Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo Are the World’s Top Plastic Polluters

A new report says these companies pollute the most places with the most plastics.
plastic washed up on beach
For illustrative purposes only. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Despite the many impressive environmental initiatives cropping up all over the world, plastic pollution is still a massive problem. And it turns out that many of your favourite everyday products may be to blame. A new report from the organisation Break Free From Plastic released today found that Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo pollute the most places with the most plastics.

They discovered these through what they call “brand audits,” wherein they counted plastic packaging found during 484 cleanups in over 50 countries in September. Unlike regular cleanup initiatives, they used the opportunity to tally what companies produce these plastics.


Out of the 476,423 pieces of plastic waste recovered, 43 percent was marked with a clear consumer brand. Most were plastic bags, bottles, and sachets.

Other companies tagged as top contributors to the pollution were Mondelēz International, Unilever, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Phillip Morris International, and Perfetti Van Melle.

“This is evidence that corporations urgently need to do more to address the plastic pollution crisis they’ve created,” Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement said in the report. “Recycling is not going to solve this problem,” he added.

Only 9 percent of the world’s plastic waste is actually recycled. This means that the rest are either incinerated, or end up in landfills, in the ocean, or our surroundings.

Denise Patel, United States Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said the plastic packaging produced by these brands have turned our "recycling system into garbage.”

Break Free From Plastic has called on corporations to urgently reduce their production of single-use plastic packaging and to instead find innovative solutions.

Some solutions suggested in the report were for cities to adapt a zero-waste lifestyle, for brands to set up a delivery system for refills, to go back to using traditional packaging like banana leaves, and to encourage consumers to use their own reusable materials.


"The industry would want to frame plastic pollution as a problem of individual irresponsibility. The truth is, consumer choices have already been predetermined for them by these companies selling their products using single-use and throwaway plastic packaging," Hernandez told VICE. "If companies want to stay relevant in the coming years, they need to shift to reusable and refillable systems now."

For the most part, multinationals have only offered what environmentalists call “false solutions" that only justify plastic use. These include replacing plastic with paper or bioplastics (which are not all biodegrade) and burning plastics through incinerators.

“These strategies largely protect the outdated throwaway business model that caused the plastic pollution crisis, and will do nothing to prevent these brands from being named the top polluters again in the future,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia Plastic Campaign Coordinator Abigail Aguilar said.

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