Global survey finds who are the three biggest plastic polluters around

10 Oct 2018

Image: © noppadon /

New research into finding the companies that are the biggest plastic polluters globally has found three major contenders.

The recent discovery of a 50-year-old plastic bottle of washing-up liquid on a beach in the UK has highlighted just how damaging our previous attitudes to plastic have been.

While some major supermarket chains and household brands have promised to at least partially or totally reduce their plastic output, the trillions of tonnes of plastic that already exist in areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are already out there.

Now, however, in a bid to put pressure on companies contributing to this plastic build-up, a survey of clean-ups across the world commissioned by the Break Free From Plastic movement has named the three biggest contributors.

After collecting 187,000 pieces of plastic waste across 239 clean-ups in 42 countries, the movement said that the three biggest offenders in order are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé. Coca-Cola-branded products alone were found in 40 out of 42 countries.

The most common type of plastic found was polystyrene, followed by PET used in bottles, containers and many other types of packaging.

Looking at the various continents, the three companies named were the highest polluters in North and South America. The results are similar in Europe, where the three brands account for 45pc of plastic pollution collected there.

Brands respond

Many other brands were also found in large numbers, the group added, including Danone, Mondelēz International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars and Colgate-Palmolive.

“These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” said global coordinator for the group, 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.”

Responding to the survey, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé said that they are currently working to reduce their plastic waste. A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said the company aims to have 50pc recycled content by 2030. “We can’t do this alone, and it will take some time to accomplish, but we recognise the need for action and the importance of creating a world without waste,” the spokesperson said.

PepsiCo, meanwhile, said that it aims to have “100pc recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025”, with Nestlé giving a similar timeframe.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic