Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo named top plastic polluters for the second year in a row

Manila, Philippines – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the top 3 most identified companies in global brand audits for the second year in a row, according to a new report “BRANDED Volume II: Identifying the World’s Top Corporate Plastic Polluters.”

Four hundred and eighty-four cleanups in over 50 countries and 6 continents, organised by the Break Free From Plastic movement in September, identified the top polluting companies. The rest of the companies rounding out the top 10 polluters are Mondelēz International, Unilever, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Phillip Morris, and Perfetti Van Melle.

“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. Recycling is not going to solve this problem. Break Free From Plastic’s nearly 1,800 member organizations are calling on corporations to urgently reduce their production of single-use plastic and find innovative solutions focused on alternative delivery systems that do not create pollution,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement. 

This year’s most frequently identified companies in the brand audits – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo – have offered mostly false solutions to the plastics crisis, underscoring how important it is for voices from beyond the consumer goods sector to demand accountability and call for an end to single-use plastics. The list of top polluters is again filled with some of the world’s most commonly known brands.

“Recent commitments by corporations like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo to address the crisis unfortunately continue to rely on false solutions like replacing plastic with paper or bioplastics and relying more heavily on a broken global recycling system. These strategies largely protect the outdated throwaway business model that caused the plastic pollution crisis, and will do nothing to prevent these brands from being named the top polluters again in the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,” said Abigail Aguilar, Greenpeace Southeast Asia plastic campaign coordinator.

“The products and packaging that brands like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are churning out is turning our recycling system into garbage. China has effectively banned the import of the US and other exporting countries’ ‘recycling,’ and other countries are following suit. Plastic is being burned in incinerators across the world, exposing communities to toxic pollution. We must continue to expose these real culprits of our plastic and recycling crisis,” said Denise Patel, US Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

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#BrandAudit2019 highlights the power of citizens in holding corporate plastic polluters accountable

On World Cleanup Day on Sept. 21, Break Free From Plastic, of which Plastic Pollution Coalition is a founding member, highlighted the power of citizen action to hold corporate polluters accountable for the plastic pollution crisis.  

Through its #BrandAudit2019 initiative, members of  the #breakfreefromplastic movement have collectively organized over 700 brand audits in 84 countries to identify the brands responsible for the plastic pollution found in worldwide cleanups and record data to hold those brands accountable.

“Every time we do clean ups, we are confronted with the pervasive problem of plastic pollution suffocating the planet.  By doing brand audits, we are able to expose and challenge the real drivers of this crisis, especially the companies who keep marketing and selling their products in disposable, throwaway packaging. We can’t keep cleaning up after the mess created by these corporations. They need to be held accountable,”  said Emma Priestland, #breakfreefromplastic Corporate Campaign Coordinator.

“Corporations must own up to the plastic pollution that they are causing. These corporations have been inundating the Global South market with single-use products and multilayer small size sachets or packets that, according to them, are pro-poor, but can hardly be recycled. However, these corporations are the ones making profits out of this throwaway packaging, while at the same time polluting developing countries and calling us the world’s biggest polluters,” Daru Rini of Indonesia-based Ecoton. 

In the recently held Waste Assessment and Brand Audit in Surabaya River, Indonesia, Ecoton has identified plastic residual wastes such as soiled diapers, sachets or packets, and PET bottles as the biggest percentage of plastic waste. These single-use plastics that can neither be recycled nor composted are the biggest threat to achieving Zero Waste, and are to blame for releasing microplastics into the environment. 

Indonesia, along with other Southeast Asian countries, are reeling from the impacts of plastic pollution brought about by the influx of products wrapped in sachets or smaller plastic packaging aimed at reaching lower income brackets in developing countries. However, communities and governments often bear the brunt of managing the disposal of these unrecyclable plastic packaging while multinational corporations’ continued production and use of single-use plastic packaging is  escaping scrutiny and accountability.

“Communities around the world have carried the burden of cleaning up the plastic pollution created by corporations for too long. Brand audits transform beach cleanups into something truly powerful—a way to stop plastic pollution at the source by holding corporate polluters accountable. We will only see real change when companies like Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. end their reliance on fossil fuel-based plastic and throwaway packaging,” said Graham Forbes, Greenpeace USA Global Project Leader.

From North and South America to Europe to Africa and Asia,  #breakfreefromplastic has mobilized groups and individuals with a common mission to expose branded trash so that corporations can no longer pass the burden to citizens and governments. This year’s brand audit initiative has mobilized a massive number of volunteers in countries like Taiwan (11,000), Colombia (10,000) China (7 coastal cleanups), Benin (1800), Tanzania (1500), Kenya (700), Ecuador (600 volunteers), Ivory Coast (600 volunteers), India (600), Ghana (500 volunteers), the Philippines (500), and over 200 in Malawi, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Brazil as well as many different groups in Nigeria and the Philippines. This year’s number of brand audit actions has tripled compared to last year.  

The results of this year’s global brand audits will be revealed and showcased in a report scheduled for release in the coming weeks. Last year, the results were  consolidated in a report entitled Branded: In Search of the World’s Top Corporate Polluters vol. 1 which revealed that among the world’s most polluting brands are multinational companies Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive. 

The top three companies alone (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé) accounted for 14% of the branded plastic pollution found in the six regions where the audits were conducted. These worldwide coordinated brand audits have been putting much pressure on companies to be responsible and accountable for the “branded pollution” that they have been causing. It has also emboldened the Break Free From Plastic movement to issue a Corporate Leadership Challenge in October 2018 and to reinforce its corporate call on the 3Rs: reveal how much plastic goes into markets and environments each year; reduce the amount of plastic produced and packaged; and reinvent how goods are packaged and delivered.//ends

 #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,500 non-governmental organizations and individuals from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.


International Coastal Cleanup Day is Sept. 21 and Plastic Pollution Coalition encourages individuals and groups to sign up to join or host a brand audit near you.

What’s a brand audit?

The Break Free From Plastic movement is mobilizing people all over the world to participate in the 2019 Brand Audit to hold corporations accountable for their role in creating the plastic pollution crisis. We’re coming together at beaches, parks, streets, and beyond to calculate who exactly is responsible for plastic waste. We’ll then use this data to get to the root of the plastic pollution problem.

In 2018, 9,000 volunteers across 6 continents came together to organize 239 brand audit cleanups. They found 187,851 pieces of plastic pollution. Based on the audit results, the 2018 top polluters were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle. (Read the 2018 Brand Audit Report here.)

Here’s what you can do:

How to make your cleanup and brand audit plastic-free:

Inspire a wave of change at your local cleanup and brand audit by refusing single-use plastic! Plan ahead with these tips.

  • Before the event, send reminders to volunteers to bring their own water bottle.

  • Fill up a reusable container with water to refill volunteers’ water bottles as needed.

  • Encourage volunteers to bring reusable work gloves to protect hands.

  • Bring plastic-free snacks such as fruit for volunteers. You can be reimbursed for food via microfunds (instructions above).

Enjoy your event! Be sure to use #plasticpollutes #brandaudit2019 and #breakfreefromplastic on social media.

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Photo: A plastic Pantene bottle floats in the Irish Sea. Photo by Greenpeace. Pantene is a P&G brand.

A group of nearly 30 companies including ExxonMobil, Shell Chemical, Dow, and Procter and Gamble have launched the Alliance to End Plastic Waste today. The Alliance has pledged to commit $1 billion dollars toward plastic recycling and cleanup efforts, but fails to address the industry’s massive scale up of plastic production and the fact that recycling rates for plastic are plummeting across the U.S. and world.

“This announcement from industry is too little, too late,” said Dianna Cohen, CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Plastic production is slated to increase by 40 percent over the next decade. Recycling fails to address the problem, and single-use plastic is filling our waterways, oceans, and environment. These global companies must take action to reduce single-use plastic production. We need to turn off the faucet. As Captain Charles Moore has frequently said, without reduction, investment in recycling and cleanup is like bailing an overflowing bathtub with a teaspoon.”

Captain Charles Moore is the founder of Algalita Marine Research and Education, a PPC member organization, and the discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive area of plastic soup floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a growing global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses, and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways and oceans, and the environment. 

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Manila, Philippines – Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé were the most frequent companies identified in 239 cleanups and brand audits spanning 42 countries and six continents, the Break Free From Plastic movement announced today. Over 187,000 pieces of plastic trash were audited, identifying thousands of brands whose packaging relies on the single-use plastics that pollute our oceans and waterways globally. Coca-Cola was the top polluter in the global audit, with Coke-branded plastic pollution found in 40 of the 42 participating countries. This brand audit effort is the most comprehensive snapshot of the worst plastic polluting companies around the world.

“These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic Von Hernandez. “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”

The audits, led by Break Free From Plastic member organizations[1], found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups, in that order. This ranking of multinational companies included only brands that were found in at least ten of the 42 participating countries. Overall, polystyrene, which is not recyclable in most locations, was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET, a material used in bottles, containers, and other packaging.

The top polluters in Asia, according to the analysis, were Coca-Cola, Perfetti van Melle, and Mondelez International brands. These brands accounted for 30 percent of all branded plastic pollution counted by volunteers across Asia. This year’s brand audits throughout Asia build upon a week-long cleanup and audit at the Philippines’ Freedom Island in 2017, which found Nestlé and Unilever to be the top polluters.

“We pay the price for multinational companies’ reliance on cheap throwaway plastic,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar. “We are the ones forced to clean up their plastic pollution in our streets and waterways. In the Philippines, we can clean entire beaches and the next day they are just as polluted with plastics. Through brand audits, we can name some of the worst polluters and demand that they stop producing plastic to begin with.”

In North and South America, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 64 and 70 percent of all the branded plastic pollution, respectively.

“In Latin America, brand audits put responsibility on the companies that produce useless plastics and the governments that allow corporations to place the burden, from extraction to disposal, in mostly vulnerable and poor communities,” said GAIA Coordinator for Latin America Magdalena Donoso. “BFFP members in Latin America are exposing this crisis  and promoting zero waste strategies in connection with our communities.”

In Europe, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were again the top identified polluters, accounting for 45 percent of the plastic pollution found in the audits there. In Australia, 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 82 percent of the plastic pollution found. And finally, in Africa, ASAS Group, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble brands were the top brands collected, accounting for 74 percent of the plastic pollution there.

“These brand audits are putting responsibility back where it belongs, with the corporations producing endless amounts of plastics that end up in the Indian Ocean,” said Griffins Ochieng, Programmes Coordinator for the Centre for Environment Justice and Development in Kenya. “We held cleanups and brand audits in two locations in Kenya to identify the worst corporate polluters in the region and hold them accountable. It is more urgent than ever, for the sake of communities that rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, health and well-being, to break free from plastic.”

Break Free From Plastic is calling on corporations to reduce their use of single-use plastic, redesign delivery systems to minimize or eliminate packaging, and take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are pumping into already strained waste management systems and the environment. While the brand audits do not provide a complete picture of companies’ plastic pollution footprints, they are the best indication to date of the worst plastic polluters globally.

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Last week, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a #CleanSeas campaign to “turn the tide on plastic.” The campaign educated people all over the world about the 8 million tons of plastic going into our oceans every year and urged individuals to take action to reduce their plastic footprint on the earth. Make a commitment here.  

According to the UNEP, countries across the globe are already making reduction commitments: Indonesia will cut marine litter by an astounding 70 percent by 2025; Uruguay has pledged to adopt a nationwide plastic bag fee in 2017; and Costa Rica is amping up education and improving waste management to reduce plastic pollution.

While these government pledges—and the more than 700 individual commitments—are a successful start, solving the plastic pollution crisis requires collaboration between communities, businesses, and governments. When governments commit to taking actionable steps to reduce plastic pollution worldwide, communities must be ready to hold their governments to those promises.

This process is already in action all over the world. When people in Rwanda advocated for a plastic bag ban with penalties for offenders the government followed through, and the ban has been upheld in the country since 2008. In California, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) partners with local government to ensure that waste diversion and recycling happens and that environmental commitments are kept. And in 2016, a grassroots movement of community members and organizations helped California uphold the state-wide plastic bag ban.

Here are five things we all can do to hold governments accountable:

  1. Contact your representatives. Tweet at them, call them, or write letters and emails. (Don’t know who your representatives are? Find out in the US, in Europe, and in the UN.)
  2. Ask your representatives to release strategies for combating plastic pollution. For example, find out whether your country has banned microbeads in personal care products, and if they haven’t, send a letter urging action.
  3. Ask for a timeline. Whether you ask your local government to ban plastic bags or your national government to ban microbeads, request a detailed timeline for implementation. Did you know? The U.S. and more than 70 other countries are working to promote transparency and fight corruption through the Open Government Partnership. In the U.S., you can demand access to documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
  4. Show up to community events. After making your voice heard by writing your representative, show up to public forums, committee meetings, speaking events, and other gatherings your representatives hold locally. Tell your politicians your concerns about the plastic pollution crisis and listen to their responses.
  5. Follow up. Use the information you’ve gathered to ensure your representatives keep the commitments they’ve made. Call, email, and follow up again. Thank them when measures pass that reducing plastic pollution and protect the environment. If they fail to meet your expectations, tell them. For instance, you can start by letting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo know that he failed to protect community rights by letting the plastic bag industry preempt New York City’s bag ban—a bad precedent for local vs. state/national rights all over the world.

Looking for a place to start? Learn how to start a plastic bag ban or polystyrene ban in your town.

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Take the pledge! Refuse single-use plastic.