Coca-Cola was found for the second year in a row to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic trash conducted by the Break Free From Plastic global movement. The giant soda company was responsible for more plastic litter than the next top three polluters combined.
More than 72,000 volunteers fanned out onto beaches, paddled along waterways, and walked along streets near their offices and homes picking up plastic bottles, cups, wrappers, bags, and scraps for the one-day cleanup in September that was the basis for the audit. Sorting through the mounds of garbage, they found that the plastic represented 50 different types and could be traced back to almost 8,000 brands. Coke was responsible for 11,732 pieces of plastic litter found in 37 countries on four continents. After Coca-Cola, the next biggest contributors to the plastic pollution in the audit were Nestle, PepsiCo, Mondelez International — purveyor of snack brands like Oreo, Ritz, Nabisco, and Nutter Butter — and Unilever. More than half of the plastic had eroded to the point where it was impossible to discern who had produced it.
Coke was the top source of plastic in Africa and Europe and the second largest source in Asia and South America. In North America, the company responsible for the most plastic found in the cleanups was Nestle, followed by the Solo Cup Company, owned by the Dart Container corporation, and Starbucks. Coca-Cola ranked fifth among the companies responsible for plastic waste in North America.
Coca-Cola responded to questions about the brand audit with an emailed statement: “Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans — or anywhere that it doesn’t belong — is unacceptable to us. In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution.”
Coke’s statement also said, “We are investing locally in every market to increase recovery of our bottles and cans and recently announced the launch in Vietnam of an industry-backed packaging recovery organization, as well as a bottler-led investment of $19 million in the Philippines in a new food-grade recycling facility. We are also investing to accelerate key innovations that will help to reduce waste, including new enhanced recycling technologies that allow us to recycle poor quality PET plastic, often destined for incineration or landfill, back to high quality food packaging material.”
Coca-Cola’s dubious distinction of being the top global contributor of plastic waste for two consecutive years runs counter to the company’s carefully curated public image as an environmental leader. Earlier this month, Coke introduced a plastic bottle made from recycled marine plastic, and last year the company pledged to collect and recycle “the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally.”
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