‘Trashiversary’: The Coca-Cola Company, a sponsor of COP27, named worst plastic polluter for fifth year in a row

Overall five years, more Coca-Cola Company branded items were collected than the next two top polluters combined. l FILE/GARY CAMERON

Overall five years, more Coca-Cola Company branded items were collected than the next two top polluters combined. l FILE/GARY CAMERON

Published Nov 18, 2022


Activists from around the world commemorated the 5-year “Trashiversary" today (Thursday) by organising actions and return-to-sender activities in front of top polluter offices. They also called for a global plastics treaty to be implemented to cut the amount of plastic the world consumes.

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 analyses 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.

According to a press release, over the past five years, global clean-ups 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.

Overall 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 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.

Yesterday (Thursday), in response to corporate inaction, activists worldwide were commemorating five years.

“Trashiversary” for these companies by mailing or delivering their waste to them to demand urgent action.

The actions were taking, 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 UN Environment Programme together launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

This programme centred 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 had increased since joining the Global Commitment, exposing how voluntary actions aren’t leading to any kind of significant impact on plastic reduction.

Graphic: Graphic News

Considering the failing voluntary commitments of many of the major plastic polluting companies, the Break Free From Plastic movement is calling for an ambitious, legally-binding Global Plastics Treaty. The first treaty negotiation meeting will be held in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, at the end of the month.

Taylen Reddy, South African-based global youth ambassador at Break Free From Plastic, said that “instead of allowing companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to greenwash their images, governments need to compel polluters to invest in re-use and alternative product delivery systems that avoid the problem in the first place.”

“South Africa has extended producer responsibility legislation, but we’re just not implementing it properly at the moment which leaves a lot of space for polluting companies like Coca-Cola to navigate around the laws and not actually do anything about their pollution,” Reddy said.

Ornela Garelli, Oceans and Plastics Campaigner for Greenpeace México, said that “in countries such as Mexico, Coca-Cola is fighting efforts to tackle plastic pollution such as local single-use plastics bans”.

“Our communities suffer while big plastic polluters, in league with big oil, massively expand fossil fuel-based plastic production to make a profit.

“Big brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever helped create this crisis: they must phase out throwaway plastic, ensure at least half of their packaging is reusable by 2030, advocate for an ambitious global plastics treaty that limits plastic production and use, and accelerates a just transition to the re-use economy.

"The recent brand audit is once again showing who the real polluters are. These companies are falling short of their promises, but we are not reducing our commitment to advocate for zero waste,” said Froilan Grate, Asia Pacific regional co-ordinator, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

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