A new report from UK ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) reveals the top 12 companies responsible for over 70% of branded pollution across the UK: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonalds, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Tesco, Red Bull GmbH, Suntory, Carlsberg Group, Heineken Holding and Mars.
The annual Citizen Science Brand Audit released today (23 August 2022) identifies the same offenders every year, making a mockery of their supposedly ambitious sustainability pledges.
Brands are failing to adequately reduce packaging, switch to reuse models and enable recycling. SAS says the top three polluters, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonalds, are responsible for a staggering 39% of all branded pollution found.
For the third year, Coca-Cola has taken the top spot. This follows growing public pressure for systems change and recent announcement of a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25% of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.
The Dirty Dozen continue to pollute UK landscapes with plastic packaging which floods into the ocean, fuelling ecological harm and jeopardising the health of people and wildlife.
To highlight the rampant pollution blighting the environment and ocean, Surfers Against Sewage has commissioned a 100mx400m projection of packaging waste stacked up against the iconic White Cliffs of Dover (main image).
Citizen scientists across the country found 10,843 branded items in total, linked to 264 companies. A shocking 28,727 items were recorded overall, including both branded and unbranded items.
Tobacco products accounted for over 15% of all pollution recorded and over a quarter of all unbranded pollution recorded was cigarette butts.
Cigarette pollution is extremely detrimental to the soil and beaches, with the vast majority of butts made from single-use plastic and containing hundreds of toxic chemicals once smoked.
Surfers Against Sewage is calling on companies to take responsibility for their harmful pollution and the entire lifecycle of their products, reduce their packaging and adopt circular business models.
In addition, the charity is urging the government to introduce an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers of all sizes and materials including glass, not just small containers classified as ‘on-the-go’.
This scheme would see consumers pay an up-front deposit on products, redeemed on return of the container.
Growing in popularity, Deposit Return Schemes are already used effectively across Europe and receiving high return rates.
Of the items monitored from this year’s Dirty Dozen, it is estimated that a massive 55% could be captured through an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme.
‘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.’
Chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage
The data for the audit was collected as part of SAS’s ambitious Million Mile Clean initiative, inspiring community action across the country.
A movement of 3,796 volunteers collected branded items from 13,047 miles in order to hold polluting companies to account.
To end the packaging pollution crisis degrading the natural environment, Surfers Against Sewage is calling for business models that are focused on reduction and reuse; legislation that ends the production and consumption of single-use and pollution plastics and legislation that ensures effective resource use and waste management.
At the same time, the charity wants to see a cultural change across society.
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