Break Free From Plastic 2023 Global Brand Audit Report

The Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Movement’s 2023 Global Brand Audit results are here, with The Coca-Cola Company once again claiming the title of top global plastic polluter—meaning its products were found polluting the most countries with the most waste.

The annual brand audit is a participatory community initiative in which branded plastic waste is gathered, counted, and documented to identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution. The brand audits have been running for six consecutive years, following a methodology co-developed by BFFP member organizations.

In 2023, 250 brand audits were conducted by 8,804 volunteers in 41 countries. Together, they collected and audited 537,719 pieces of plastic waste. Participants from 97 civil society organizations documented 6,858 brands from 3,810 parent companies. 

Key insights from the report:

  1. The top global plastic polluters of 2023 are The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, Unilever, PepsiCo, Mondelēz International, Mars, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Danone, Altria, and British American Tobacco. “Top global plastic polluters” are defined as the parent companies whose brands were found polluting the most countries with the most plastic waste, according to the brand audit data.
  2. The Coca-Cola Company maintains its position as the #1 top polluter for the sixth consecutive year, setting a new record with a total plastic waste count of 33,820 – the highest tally for the company since the project’s inception.
  3. Legal actions against major corporations escalated in 2023, with lawsuits filed against Danone, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé in Europe. Brand audit data is instrumental in providing evidence for legal battles, underscoring the role of these audits in holding corporations accountable.
  4. For the first time, PepsiCo branded plastic waste items outnumbered those of The Coca-Cola Company. According to the methodology that considers how many countries a brand is found in, PepsiCo didn’t make the top polluter spot as their waste was found in 30 countries compared to Coca-Cola’s 40.

Through this effort, BFFP calls on consumer goods companies to:

  1. Reveal their plastic use by providing public data on the type and quantity of packaging used in different markets and the chemicals in that packaging.
  2. End support for false solutions such as burning plastic and chemical recycling. 
  3. Redesign business models away from single-use packaging of any type – including novel materials such as bio-based or compostable plastics.
  4. Invest in accessible, affordable reuse, refill, or packaging-free product delivery systems in all markets while ensuring a just transition for all relevant workers.

Expert commentary outlines why focusing on technological cleanup technologies to solve plastic pollution is a kind of false solution: “Plastic removal technologies can temporarily mitigate plastic accumulation at local scales, but evidence-based criteria are needed in policies to ensure that they are feasible and that ecological benefits outweigh the costs. To reduce plastic pollution efficiently and economically, policy should prioritize regulating and reducing upstream production rather than downstream pollution cleanup.”

Manila — The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Nestlé come in as the world’s top plastic polluters for five years running, according to Break Free From Plastic’s latest global brand audit report. The 2022 Brand Audit analyzes five years’ worth of citizen science trash-collection data, exposing how corporate voluntary commitments are not effectively reducing these companies’ devastating environmental impacts. In response, activists around the world are calling for a Global Plastics Treaty that can provide legally-binding mechanisms and enforcement policies to effectively reduce the amount of plastic both produced and used by corporations.  

Since 2018, global cleanups have been carried out by more than 200,000 volunteers in 87 countries and territories to identify the companies polluting the most places with the most plastic waste. Over all five years, more Coca-Cola Company branded items were collected than the next two top polluters combined. This year’s brand audits found more than 31,000 Coca-Cola branded products, doubling the proportion of Coca-Cola products found in 2018. These findings are revealed as the top polluter is serving as a sponsor of the UN climate change conference COP27 in Egypt. Given that 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, Coca-Cola’s role in COP27 baffles environmental activists.

Today, in response to corporate inaction, activists worldwide are commemorating a 5-year “Trashiversary” for these companies by mailing or delivering their own waste to them to demand urgent action. The actions are taking place today, targeting Coca-Cola in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, the US, and Zambia; Unilever in Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa; and PepsiCo in India and Tanzania.

In 2018, the same year that Brand Audits efforts started, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme together launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. This program centered on a set of voluntary commitments to address plastic pollution made by major fast-moving consumer goods companies, including most of the top plastic polluters. However, the Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report revealed that their 2025 targets will “almost certainly” not be met. For many of these companies, the use of plastic packaging has actually increased since joining the Global Commitment, exposing how voluntary actions are not leading to any kind of significant impact on plastic reduction. 

Stanford pediatrician and arbovirologist Desiree LaBeaud and her colleagues created a community-led mosquito research project in Kenya, where mosquito-borne diseases are common. They found that plastic pollution, including containers and bottles, can serve as major breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. In an effort to reduce disease, LaBeaud and colleagues have launched a nonprofit to clean up plastic pollution to prevent continued spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

Explore the California Coastal Commission’s Resources for California Educators to help students understand and address plastic pollution—including programs and resources, streaming videos, an interagency education network, and events calendar.

More than eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown away each year and washed out to sea.  It takes centuries to break down. It’s eaten by marine creatures. And it’s in our food chain. Your seafood supper may have a synthetic garnish. Scientists just don’t know what effects it has on our health.

Sky Ocean Rescue is doing something about it. Watch their documentary, A Plastic Tide!