A global coalition of over 400 global organisations have joined forces on World Refill Day to demand that the five biggest plastic polluters commit to 'transparent, ambitious and accountable reuse and refill systems'.
In an open letter, organisations and members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including City to Sea (who are behind World Refill Day, the global campaign to help people live with less waste), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have called on the CEOs of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever and Procter & Gamble to address the environmental, social and health impacts that their plastic use is having on communities disproportionally from the Global South.
In the face of climate catastrophe, the signatory organisations highlight that plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in a single year, while plastic production is expected to rise by 40% over the next decade, driven in large part by single-use plastic packaging.
Crucially, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble all buy packaging from manufacturers supplied with plastic resin or petrochemicals by well-known companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron Phillips, Ineos, and Dow. The role of the plastics industry and the climate crisis cannot be separated. One report estimates that if the entire lifecycle of plastic were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. In fact, plastic adds more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in a single year, equivalent to 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
In addition to fuelling the climate crisis, the production, use, and disposal of plastic creates toxic pollution that harms both people and the planet. Plastic production and disposal, especially via incineration or landfill, disproportionately impacts communities of colour, low-income communities and indigenous communities by polluting the air, water, and soil. At the same time, the toxic chemicals in plastic packaging and products cause irreparable damage to the environment, wildlife, and our own health through everyday use. Plastic is inherently toxic, and the government has a responsibility to protect us from that toxicity by holding corporate polluters accountable.
Signatories, including businesses, campaigners and faith groups have stated that for the companies to move their reputations from “big pollution” to “big solution” they need to urgently:
REVEAL the full extent of their plastic footprint if they do not already do so. This is a core part of accountability and essential if corporations are to reduce their plastic footprint. Reporting should be per single-use plastic item, as well as by weight.
REDUCE the amount of plastic they use by setting ambitious, transparent targets, and supporting action plans on how to achieve them. Then, prioritise achieving those targets.
REINVENT their packaging to allow for refill and reuse. To do this, they should commit to collaborating with other companies to standardise reusable packaging and build shared reuse systems and infrastructure.
These measures are not only essential but also popular. Recent polling in 28 countries around the world, found that the vast majorities of people agree that manufacturers and retailers should take responsibility for reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic packaging, with a global average of 85%. Latin Americans are those who are most in agreement (89%), followed by Europeans. The five countries where support for having manufacturers and retailers take responsibility for reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic packaging is highest are Brazil, China, Great Britain, and Mexico, all at 90%, and Sweden at 89%.
Coca-Cola has been named the biggest plastic polluter for four years in a row. In 2019 Coca-cola admitted to pumping out an estimated 200,000 single-use bottles every minute. This figure is likely to have grown in years since. This means that they’re responsible for one-fifth of the entire world’s PET production. #breakfreefromplastic’s Brand Audit found more Coca-Cola-branded waste than the next two top polluters combined — as has been the case each year since 2019. In 2020, reporting for the Ellen MacArthur foundation found that Coca-Cola produced 2,981,421 metric tons (mT) of plastic. This amounts to 14,907,105 mT of CO2 emissions, equivalent to almost 3.25 million passenger vehicles driven for one year. Despite announcing ambitious reuse targets, there has been no evidence so far that this has resulted in a decrease in plastic pollution caused by their products.
Natalie Fée, the CEO and Founder of City to Sea, the UK campaigning organisation behind World Refill Day, commented, “Washing up on our beaches, polluting our rivers and littering our parks & streets all over the world are the same plastic products produced by the same big multinational companies. This World Refill Day is an opportunity for these big brands to go from a business model of “big pollution” to “big solution”. By making reuse and refillable packaging affordable and accessible, big polluters like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, and Proctor and Gamble, can play a big role in tackling plastic pollution. We know that the public want big brands to do more and this World Refill Day we’re calling on them to listen to their customers and put their words into action.”
Coleen Salamat, Plastic Solutions Campaigner at EcoWaste Coalition in the Philippines, commented: "The staggering amount of sachets and single-use plastics, in general, overwhelms not only our environment but also our waste pickers’ communities and puts them at more risk to harmful chemicals coming from this material. We need to transition to refill and reusable systems while ensuring a just transition that supports not only the longevity of the environment but also better working conditions and degree of protection for our waste workers."
Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe commented: “Decision makers have a key role to play in holding major plastic polluters accountable and in driving change in the packaging sector, by setting the conditions for reuse and refill to become the norm. Achieving effective reuse systems requires traceability and transparency on plastic production and use, binding reuse targets and legislative measures to support reuse infrastructures at scale. The EU has an opportunity not to be missed to pave the way at the global level, by integrating such measures in the upcoming revision of its legislation on packaging and packaging waste”.
Alejandra Warren, Executive Director of Plastic Free Future in the United States, said, “On World Refill Day, it’s important to remember that reuse and refill systems have been implemented by diverse groups around the world for generations, whereas the mainstream single-use "throwaway culture" is relatively new and clearly dangerous. The plastic industry has created a planetary crisis that now affects every living organism, while disproportionately harming BIPOC communities. In the United States—where only 5-6% of plastic waste is recycled, despite the heavy presence of petrochemical and plastic-producing corporations in the country—we have a unique responsibility to hold plastic polluters accountable and demand reuse and refill systems as the path towards a plastic-free future.”
Macarena Guajardo. Director of Basura Foundation, Chile. "For Fundación Basura it is of the utmost importance to make visible the urgency and need regarding access to drinking water consumption and its socio-environmental benefits through the Refill platform. This is why we work to publicize the myths and truths of drinking bottled water in Chile and promote the use of reusable bottles to thereby avoid the generation of thousands of waste daily.
Ana Rocha, Executive Director for Nipe Fagio in Tanzania, commented: "Despite our government's efforts in banning plastic carrier bags, which we value and support, the market is being flooded with various kinds of plastic packaging that are not collected and cannot be recyclable. It is urgent that an extension of the plastic carrier bag ban is implemented, moving the country towards a single-use plastic ban and the adoption of reusable packaging."
To read the full open letter, click here. To download the media pack for World Refill Day including photos, stats and facts, additional quotes, stories, images and more please visit: https://bit.ly/WRDMediaPack2022.
Notes to Editor:
About World Refill Day: World Refill Day is a global campaign to prevent plastic pollution and help people live with less waste run by the UK plastic pollution campaigning organisation, City to Sea. The campaign is designed to accelerate the transition away from single-use plastic and towards reuse systems by creating a global movement of everyday activists, NGOs and sustainable businesses uniting behind a shared message that we need to see action on plastics and reuse is the solution. www.worldrefillday.org.
About #breakfreefromplastic (BFFP): BFFP is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,000 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.
About the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit: This report is a collaboration of Break Free From Plastic members, allies and all 11,184 volunteers who conducted 440 brand audits across 45 countries. Together, they collected 330,493 pieces of plastic waste, 58% of which was marked with a clear consumer brand. Read the Full Report here.