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.

This report investigates the increased manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) through state-sponsored labour transfers in China’s Uyghur Region and the routes by which the resulting building materials make their way into international markets. Research uncovers how a significant amount of PVC is made with forced labor.

This collaboration between the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and Material Research found the following:

  • the Uyghur Region has become a world leader in the production of PVC plastics in recent years, accounting for 10% of the world’s PVC.
  • The two largest PVC manufacturers in China are both state-owned enterprises based in the XUAR:
    – Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical (2.33 million tons per year, from four locations)
    – Xinjiang Tianye (1.4 million tons capacity per year, from one location).
  • All of the Uyghur Region’s PVC companies have been active participants in the XUAR’s notorious labour transfer programs.
  • Those companies export to 73 intermediary manufacturers, who then export PVC-based building materials to at least 158 companies worldwide.

While the Safe Drinking Water Act guarantees all Americans access to clean, drinkable water, it hasn’t worked out that way in practice. NRDC partnered with the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) and Coming Clean to analyze nationwide violations of the law from 2016 to 2019. Researchers have found a disturbing relationship between sociodemographic characteristics—especially race—and drinking water violations. They found that the rate of drinking water violations increased in:

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities
  • Areas with more non-native English speakers
  • Areas with more people living under crowded housing conditions
  • Areas with more people with sparse access to transportation

The analysis revealed that race, ethnicity, and language had the strongest relationship to slow and inadequate enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That means that water systems that serve the communities that are the most marginalized are more likely to be in violation of the law—and to stay in violation for longer periods of time.

In the evening hours of February 3, 2023, an eastbound Norfolk Southern train derailed in the normally quiet town of East Palestine, Ohio, caught fire and spread a variety of hazardous chemicals over a broad area. In the months following this catastrophic failure, the residents in the region have had to deal with contaminated soil, surface water, and air pollution, and deal with the fears that exposure to some of the hazardous materials on that ill-fated 32N train might lead to significant health problems in the years ahead.

Vast quantities of hazardous materials are being moved near people’s homes, in an industry where derailments, collisions, and other incidents are all too regular of an occurrence. Fractracker Alliance has published a report and map quantifying rail incidents, and identifies risks to residents of the upper Ohio River Valley:

Unilever is vocal about its desire to conduct business that does ‘more good for our planet and our society – not just less harm’. In recent years, it has been visible at conferences around the world, promoting its plan to use ‘less plastic, better plastic or no plastic’.

In this report, Greenpeace International investigates the reality behind these soundbites. Greenpeace exposes the blight of Unilever’s single-use sachets on low-income communities and the glaring gap that exists between what the company says it will do, and what it actually does.

Greenpeace concludes by urging Unilever to grasp the opportunity presented by the new UN Global Plastics Treaty. The company must spearhead an industry-wide movement, one that transitions businesses away from single-use plastics and towards the adoption of at-scale reusable packaging systems around the world.

Fossil fuels contribute to climate change and petrochemicals, both of which increase maternal and child disease. Reducing fossil fuels can reap a double benefit for climate change and improved health. Health experts weigh in.