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The Dirty Dozen exposed

12 brands are responsible for over half of the UK’s plastic pollution
Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod
Coca-Cola cups at a kiosk on the Brighton pier

Over the last month, #ReturnToOffender – an award-winning campaign from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) – has been challenging big brands on the volume of plastic and packaging pollution found on beaches and other wild spaces.

Thousands of individuals across the UK took part in the digital action, documenting the branded plastic and packaging pollution they found during their isolated outdoor activity during the pandemic lockdown.

The UK’s plastic polluters

The campaign has revealed that just 12 big brands are responsible for over half of the UK’s plastic and packaging pollution.

Coca-Cola was identified as the worst polluter out of 207 brands, responsible for 15% of the plastic waste recorded.

The plastic pollution crisis is choking our rivers, ocean and countryside, destroying delicate ecosystems and killing marine wildlife.

The #ReturnToOffender campaign calls on manufacturers to tackle plastic pollution and reaffirm commitments to eliminate single-use plastic packaging.

It’s asking them to support refill schemes, implement circular schemes to reuse and reprocess packaging and support the accelerated introduction of a deposit return scheme.

The blame game

As part of the #ReturnToOffender campaign, the public were encouraged to upload images of branded plastic and packaging pollution on social media, tagging manufacturers and asking for an update on their commitments to stop plastic pollution.

Over 30 brands directly responded to the public messages, nine of which were part of the ‘dirty dozen’.

Despite a small number of brands highlighting the action they were taking to reduce their plastic production, the majority of responses simply blamed the general public without acknowledging the systemic issues and plastic reduction strategies that businesses must adopt to protect the environment and finite resources.

Responsibility for plastic waste

Surfers Against Sewage is calling for a reduction of the production and consumption of single-use plastics.

Alongside the environmental action directed at big businesses, the marine conservation charity is also asking the UK government to introduce an ‘all in’ comprehensive Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility by 2023 to ensure manufactures are responsible for 100% of the costs of their plastic waste management. 

‘Anti-littering campaigns will be set for further failure unless the root causes of plastic pollution are addressed through a radical change in our approach to materials and recycling systems. Big business continues to put profits ahead of preventing plastic pollution and we urge them to deliver fast and meaningful action today to protect the planet.’

Head of campaigns at Surfers Against Sewage

The wave of waste

As lockdown restrictions lift and the public return to their most-missed environments, we are already seeing a vast increase of plastic and packaging pollution on UK beaches.

This highlights the sheer scale of single-use plastics being pumped onto the market and into public hands without sufficient recycling systems to contain and control the ‘wave of waste’.

The SAS ‘post-pandemic pollution poll’ revealed the main actions the public want to see in order to tackle the issue. The results range from education on the impacts of plastic to a reduction in plastic production.

As the UK emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital that we ‘build back better’ and ensure that big business is held truly accountable for the full life-cycle of their products and the pollution they cause.

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