Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and PepsiCo are the worst packaging polluters in the UK, an annual waste audit has found.
Campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, which released its annual audit on Friday, looked at more than 30,700 individual polluting items collected by more than 4,000 citizen scientists along coastlines, canal paths, bridleways and city streets over a 12-month period up to June 5 2023.
The audit found that 12 companies are responsible for more than two thirds (70%) of branded pollution collected over the year.
Coca-Cola was found to be the UK’s biggest polluter for the fourth year running, responsible for almost one fifth (17%) of branded pollution logged by the citizen scientists.
It comes despite the company launching initiatives to reduce plastic pollution, including the introduction of attached caps across its entire portfolio in May 2022.
McDonald’s came in second with 11% of salvaged polluting items attributed to the brand after overtaking PepsiCo this year, which came in third place.
Together, the top three were responsible for 37% of all branded pollution collected during the audit, down by only two percentage points from last year’s figures.
Other top polluters included Tesco, Haribo, Nestle, Heineken, Mars, Carlsberg and Red Bull.
Izzy Ross, campaigns manager at Surfers Against Sewage, said the results are “shocking, but sadly not surprising”.
She said: “Year on year we’re seeing the same culprits responsible for disgusting amounts of plastic pollution on our beaches, and in our cities and countryside.
“This Dirty Dozen of plastic polluting companies need to clean up their act.
“They must be held accountable for their pollution and driven to do more to adopt circular business models to reduce their plastic and (by extension) their carbon footprint.”
Elsewhere, the fishing industry has emerged as a leading source of plastic waste this year, with fishing gear like nets, lines and ropes, making up 11% of the items overall and 16% of those found on beaches.
A significant number of vape and e-cigarette products were also identified for the first time this year, with 131 items logged by collectors.
Surfers Against Sewage are calling on companies to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, by reducing packaging and adopting circular business models.
The charity is urging the Government to introduce an “all-in” deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials, including glass – rather than solely small containers classified as “on-the-go”.
The UK Government announced plans to introduce a DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but has since delayed the implementation of the scheme, which it has announced will not include glass, until 2025.
Ms Ross said: “DRS schemes have been shown to be highly successful in other countries, and there’s no reason to assume this wouldn’t be the case in the UK.
“Unfortunately, the Government continues to stall on plans to implement a DRS. In doing so, it is condemning our ocean, beaches and rivers to a further 8bn extra pieces of plastic a year, as plastic gradually chokes these fragile ecosystems to death.”
A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “It is clear the world is facing a packaging waste problem, and we have a responsibility to help solve it.
“At Coca-Cola, we’re continuing to work with our partners to encourage more recycling, whilst actively supporting several initiatives aimed at making litter a thing of the past.
“Here in the UK, all of our bottles are already recyclable, and all of our smaller packs are made with 100% recycled plastic, excluding cap and label.”
A PepsiCo UK spokesperson said: “We recognise that litter on our beaches is a huge problem, and we know there is a significant role we must play to help address this challenge.
“As set out in our strategic transformation plan, PepsiCo Positive, we remain fully committed to reducing the plastic we use across our entire portfolio and are making progress towards our goal of eliminating virgin fossil-based plastics in all our crisp and snack bags in Europe by 2030.”
A Nestle spokesperson said: “This is another important piece of research on the global issue of plastic litter and, while the results are not a surprise to us, they are not at all nice to see and we are aware of the scale.
“We make some of the most well-known food and drink brands in the world and many of them are packaged with plastic in the interests of safety, freshness, and affordability. However, it is completely unacceptable for that packaging to end up as litter in the natural environment, it endangers wildlife, and threatens ecosystems and the food chain.”
“In the UK and Ireland, our efforts continue at pace to ensure as close to 100% of our packaging is designed for recycling by 2025, and we continue to work towards all of our packaging being recyclable or reusable.”
PA has also contacted Tesco, Haribo, Heineken, Mars, Carlsberg, Red Bull and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for comment.
Published: by Radio NewsHub