Coca-Cola company, one of the sponsors of the COP27 summit, has been named the worst plastic polluter for five years running, as per a global brand audit report by ‘Break Free From Plastic’. PepsiCo and Nestlé took up the other two spots in the top 3 list of international plastic polluters, both for 2022 and for the past five years.
In India, besides PepsiCo, Wai Wai noodles-maker CG Foods India Pvt Ltd and Perfetti Van Melle, the food company behind Mentos, Alpenliebe and the Chupa Chups lollipops, were among the top plastic polluters in 2022.
While PepsiCo was found to be the top polluter in the country this year, milk products were found to be the worst plastic offenders in the past two years. The Karnataka Milk Federation had topped the list in 2021 while Tamil Nadu Co-operative Milk Producers’ Federation Ltd topped the list in 2020. In 2019, SS Food Products (which makes cooking products like baking powder and ready-to-eat soups) was named the top plastic polluter while Perfetti Van Melle took that spot in 2018.
Break Free From Plastic, a coalition of around 11,000 global organisations, said that it analysed the trash-collection data for the past five years with the help of over 2 lakh volunteers in 87 places to compile the 2022 Brand Audit report. It defined the top polluters as “corporations that pollute the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste.” The primary criteria is the width of pollution, i.e. the number of countries where the product is found, while the secondary one is the depth, i.e. the number of branded items found.
Predictably, plastic packaging was most commonly found in food products, followed by household products, smoking and packaging material. Globally, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, Mondelēz International (which makes popular snacks like 5 Star, Bournvita, Cadbury, Diary Milk, and Oreos), Mars Inc., Procter & Gamble, tobacco company Philip Morris International, French food company Danone, and Italian chocolate makers Ferrero Group were featured in the top 10 companies that are responsible for plastic pollution.
The most common types of plastics deemed as pollutants were those used to make containers for food, bottles for shampoos and other personal hygiene products, and pipings. As per the report, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) were the most common plastic types found in the last five years in India.
The raw material for most types of plastics, including PET and HDPE, is derived from fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas. One of the key talking points at the COP27 summit, being held in Egypt this year, is solutions to cut down dependence on fossil fuels.
COP27 and Coca-Cola
When COP27 announced its decision to partner with Coca-Cola in September 2022, several activists slammed the move, pointing out the American beverage company’s record as a top plastic polluter.
Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar termed the choice as “baffling.” “Coca-Cola produces 120 billion throwaway plastic bottles a year – and 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, worsening both the plastic and climate crisis. They have yet to even acknowledge that this is a problem or explain how they will meet their climate goals without ending their plastic addiction. This partnership undermines the very objective of the event it seeks to sponsor,” Hocevar said in a statement.
Super fun to have a climate summit in a police state sponsored by @CocaCola while most “civil society” delegates save their indignation for jacked up hotel prices instead of locked up political prisoners. #COP27 in #Egypt is shaping up to be very cool and normal. #SaveAlaa https://t.co/28NEuyYxVD
— Naomi Klein “#COP27 Egypt Unsilenced” (@NaomiAKlein) October 1, 2022
Coca-Cola told that it “shares the goal of eliminating waste from the ocean”.
“Our support for Cop27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25% by 2030, and our ambition for net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” it told The Guardian.
However, Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic criticised governments worldwide for not holding corporations accountable for the pollution they are causing. “Instead of allowing companies like Coke to greenwash their image, governments need to compel polluters to invest in reuse and alternative product delivery systems that avoid the problem in the first place. This is one of the key systemic changes required for the world to avert the full consequences of climate change and plastic pollution,” Hernandez said.
Through its report, the Break Free From Plastic group has asked polluting corporations to reveal and reduce their global plastic footprint, and redesign product packaging to minimise dependence on plastics. They have also called on world leaders to push for a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty, keeping in mind the ineffectiveness of voluntary commitments made by corporations.