Talking trash: COP27 major sponsor Coca-Cola top plastic polluter for 5 years straight, shows report

Coca-Cola-branded waste accounted for 7.32% of all plastic waste collected globally in 2022, up from 3.6% in 2018

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Tuesday 15 November 2022

Coca-Cola Co was found to be the biggest plastic polluter in the world over from 2018-2022, claims a new report. The company is one of the major sponsors of the 26th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Volunteer-driven trash clean-ups in 87 countries since 2018 revealed 85,035 Coca-Cola products in the plastic mix. 

The number was greater than that of the two other top polluters — PepsiCo and Nestle — combined, the report by Break Free From Plastic (BFFP), a global movement of more than 11,000 organisations and supporters. 

From 2018-2022, brand audits collected 50,558 PepsiCo branded products and 27,008 Nestlé branded products, according to The Brand Audit Report 2018-2022 published November 15, 2022. 

“A brand audit is a participatory science initiative that involves counting and documenting the brands found on plastic waste to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution,” the BFFP website noted. 

Read more: ‘Explosion’ in number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 climate summit

The share of plastic waste products with the Coca Cola label also increased significantly in the past five years, the findings showed. In 2018, 9,300 items out of a total 255,429 plastics collected globally were identified as Coca-Cola products. The volume increased to 31,457 items out of a total 429,994 plastics collected globally in 2022. 

“Given that 99 per cent of plastic is made from fossil fuels, Coca-Cola’s role in COP27 baffles environmental activists,” the network of environmental protection and social justice organisations wrote in a press statement. 

Von Hernandez, global coordinator, Break Free From Plastic, said: 

Instead of allowing companies like Coca Cola 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,” he said.

Instead of truly deplastifying by eliminating single-use packaging and shifting to reuse and refill, they’re fixated on recycling – a completely inadequate response to the quantities of plastic these companies place on the market every single year, according to Rosa Pritchard, plastics lawyer, ClientEarth (United Kingdom).

Companies that joined the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018 launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme actually increased the use of plastic packaging, according to the report. 

Companies will ‘almost certainly’ miss the target of achieving 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025, the Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report cited in the BFFp paper revealed. 

There was also an overall increase of virgin plastic use back to 2018 levels, it noted. 

“The Coca-Cola Company used a total weight of 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging in 2019, and increased to 3,224,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in 2022,” BFFP analysts wrote. 

PepsiCo’s annual use increased from 2,300,000 tonnes in 2019 to 2,500,000 in 2022, they added, citing the Global Commitment reports.

The Indian subsidiary of Coca-Cola is yet to compensate villagers in Plachimada in Kerala for contaminating and over-extracting water from the area. The affected residents have been fighting the battle for their dues for the last two decades. 

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