coca cola litter

12 companies blamed for 70 per cent of UK’s branded packaging waste

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Just 12 companies have been found to be responsible for 70 per cent of the UK’s branded packaging waste according to a new study by Surfers Against Sewage.

In a new study, the charity named Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonalds, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Tesco, Red Bull GmbH, Suntory, Carlsberg Group, Heineken Holding and Mars as the companies most likely to have their name branded on UK litter.

Thousands of volunteers have been collecting packaging pollution through the charity's 'Million Mile Clean' over the last year, uncovering over 264 companies fuelling the packaging pollution crisis and filling up rivers and seas. Some 28,727 items were recorded overall, including both branded and unbranded items.

Surfers Against Sewage said there had been little change in this year’s so-called 'Dirty Dozen', the charity's annual survey identifying the firms creating the most packaging pollution.

It said the finding “makes a mockery” of the various firms' ambitious sustainability pledges, with brands consistently failing to reduce packaging, switch to reuse models or enable recycling.

The top three polluters were identified as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonalds, collectively responsible for 38 per cent of all branded pollution found.

While Coca-Cola has taken the top spot, it recently announced a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25 per cent of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Year after year, our 'Citizen Science Brand Audit' reveals the same huge companies are responsible for the packaging pollution choking our environment. Despite public sustainability commitments, these dirty brands are failing to take meaningful action to stop this harm.

“We cannot stand for this blatant greenwashing any longer. Systemic change is urgently needed to end the pollution swamping the land and ocean. Businesses need to take responsibility for their polluting products and transition to models of reduction and reuse.

“Legislation, such as an ‘all-in’ deposit scheme, needs to be introduced urgently and governments must hold these companies to account.”

The charity said it wanted companies to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, reducing their packaging and adopting circular business models.

It also called for the government to introduce an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials including glass, not just small containers classified as ‘on-the-go’.

Deposit return schemes are already used in many places in Europe, with 90 per cent of containers prevented from becoming pollution in many cases. Of the items monitored from this year’s Dirty Dozen, it is estimated that 55 per cent could have been captured through an ‘all-in’ DRS.

The charity said that despite a DRS scheme first being announced in 2018, it will be at least 2024 before it is introduced based on current government announcements, resulting in an estimated total of 48 billion extra containers entering the UK’s rivers and seas.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “We share the goal of eliminating plastic waste from the environment and acknowledge that The Coca-Cola Company has a responsibility to help solve this issue.

“That was the driving force in establishing our ‘World Without Waste’ goals and while we continue to make progress against these targets, we are challenging ourselves to do more. Today, all of our packaging is 100 per cent recyclable and our aim is to get more of it back so that it can be recycled and turned into new packaging again.

“It’s disappointing to see any packaging being littered and that’s why we fully support the introduction of a well-designed deposit return scheme, which we know from results in other countries will encourage people to recycle, rather than litter or throw away.”

A spokesperson for McDonalds said: “Over 90 per cent of the packaging we use comes from recycled or renewable sources and can be recycled. As a business we have committed to sourcing all of our packaging from renewable and recyclable materials by 2025.

“We remain committed to finding innovative ways to tackle the issue of packaging waste and are trialling a number of initiatives to help reduce littering.”

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