Plastic is pollution the minute it is made! At first, such a provocative statement may seem too outrageous, given the various applications of plastic that we have been used to in our daily lives. The record, however, shows that of all the plastic ever produced and widely deployed in commerce by companies especially as packaging for their products, only 9% has actually been recycled, with the rest getting burned, disposed of in landfills or dumpsites, or otherwise ending up in nature or polluting our oceans. It is simply insane to be producing all this pollution that nature cannot absorb. Worse, a report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) published last year states that plastic production is slated to increase by nearly 40% over the next 10 years.
Should we therefore be surprised that our oceans are now brimming with plastic pollution? That we are finding evidence of plastic contamination everywhere—in our drinking water, in our sugar, in sea salt, in beer and honey, and in our bodies?
Greenpeace volunteers collect and audit plastic garbage during the International Coastal Cleanup Day in Mertasari beach, Sanur, Bali. Greenpeace Indonesia is holding the same activity in other two locations in Indonesia: Tangerang and Yogyakarta, as part of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic global movement to reduce single use plastic products usage.
Unless companies move away from their reliance on fossil-fuel based plastic for their products, we are looking at a climate-challenged future awashed in plastic pollution with untold repercussions on human health and life on the planet as we know it.
#breakfreefromplastic, our movement composed of more than 1300 organizations worldwide working to turn the tide on plastic pollution, has been calling on companies to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging that often comes with their products.
From August to September this year, various #breakfreefromplastic member organizations mobilized and organized cleanups and audits to identify the top companies whose products rely on single-use plastic packaging that pollute our oceans and waterways worldwide.
Teachers and students from Tinajeros National High School, Malabon conduct a Brand Audit in the International Coastal Cleanup Day, Manila Bay, Philippines.
This massive citizen action against big corporate plastic polluters have yielded the following numbers: 187,851 pieces of plastic trash collected in 239 cleanups and audits in 42 countries across 6 continents.
While our brand audits do not provide a complete or definitive picture of the plastic pollution footprints of companies, they provide an evidence-based snapshot or indication of the most visible plastic polluters that people are finding in the beaches, parks, and in their own localities.
The results of this latest set of brand audits are featured in our consolidated report Branded: In Search of the World’s Top Corporate Polluters vol. 1 and they reveal that among the world’s most prolific and polluting brands are multinational companies namely Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive.
In fact, the top three companies alone (Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé) accounted for 14% of the branded plastic pollution found in the six regions where the audits were conducted.
These same companies whose products are often packaged in throwaway, non-recyclable plastic are the same companies that have been exposed in our earlier brand audits in Southeast Asia and India. Their marketing and packaging decisions have burdened communities and local governments with waste materials that can neither be composted or recycled. These companies are aware that most developing countries lack the resources and wherewithal to handle problematic types of plastic waste in their systems. Yet they continue to churn out the stuff along with their products, flooding markets in the global South, hoping that millennials will continue to be mesmerized by the promise of convenience that throw-away plastic represents.
Instead of investing in alternative delivery systems, product redesign, or materials that avoid the problems associated with plastics to begin with, the same companies continue to push for quick fixes or controversial methods of recycling (mostly downcycling) and/or waste recovery (aka incineration) to promote business as usual and justify the continuing production of plastics.
These are neither viable nor sustainable solutions, inasmuch as they only deepen our dependence on fossil fuels and reinforce the throw-away mentality. The real solutions lie in measures and policies that will reduce, if not eliminate, the use of problematic and throw-away plastic packaging for products. This is the real innovation challenge that companies urgently need to take on.
Our brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis. By continuing to churn out problematic plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up to their major role in plastic pollution and stop shifting the blame to citizens and cities for their wasteful and polluting products.
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CONTACT Jed Alegado firstname.lastname@example.org, Claire Arkin, email@example.com
Vancouver, 6 June 2017—At the Global Sustainable Brands Summit today, evidence from brand audits exposed top global manufacturing companies Pepsi, Unilever, Nestle, and Coke amongst the companies most responsible for plastic pollution in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Speaking at the summit, Froilan Grate of the environmental non-profit GAIA, or the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, presented evidence that more than 50% of all single-use plastic waste recovered from selected zero waste cities and clean-up sites in the Philippines, Indonesia and India is made up of product packaging from leading brands. This evidence, he said, shows that brands are doing too little too late to remediate their historical and ongoing pollution. The panel, entitled, “Stopping Plastic Pollution through Design Change and Circularity,” also featured Anna Cummins of 5Gyres and Matt Prindiville of Upstream Policy, all three representing the #breakfreefromplastic movement.
“As the biggest producers of throwaway plastic packaging, brands carry the heaviest responsibility for the plastic problem,” said Grate. “Plastic packaging from brands is endangering wildlife and the health of the oceans, and poisoning the water we drink and the food we eat. But the current commitments on plastic reduction and package redesign means business as usual for at least the next decade. So far corporations have given us lip-service when what is needed is urgent and drastic reduction.”
More than a dozen environmental groups in the three countries conducted waste and brand audits in the past 12 months. The latest audits were conducted in May across 18 states in India as a lead-up to the World Environment Day, which India is hosting this year. Waste and brand audits are conducted prior to actual implementation of Zero Waste strategies to gather data and help understand the types and amount of waste generated by households and commercial establishments. Brand audits complement waste audits by categorizing and counting branded residual plastics to pinpoint the main producers of the waste.
The results of all the audits are remarkably similar. Branded product packaging from multinationals topped the list of the most commonly-found plastic waste, with multilayered plastics accounting for nearly half of branded plastics audited. Across the three countries, a total of 72,721 pieces of branded plastic waste were picked and analyzed. Close to 75% was food packaging. The rest was household and personal care packaging.
In India, PepsiCo is the top multinational polluter, followed by Perfetti van Melle and Unilever. Other multinational corporations in the top 10 list are Coca-Cola and Mondelez. In audits conducted in multiple cities in the Philippines and Indonesia, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, PT Torabika, Colgate-Palmolive, and Coca-Cola are among the top 10 multinational polluters.
Many of the multinational brands identified were present at the Sustainable Brands summit. Instead of focusing on reducing their product packaging, these companies have made weak commitments with a heavy emphasis on recycling, including chemical recycling, which is still unproven. Groups in the #breakfreefromplastic movement, including GAIA, have noted that these commitments are woefully inadequate, and that recycling alone is not enough to stem the tide of plastic pollution.
GAIA has also noted that mainstream discussions on plastic waste have shifted the blame on the shortcomings of waste management in Asia, and to human behavior. Some multinational brands are asking cities to implement better waste collection and consumers to be “more responsible,” and are supporting harmful approaches such as burning plastics in incinerators and cement kilns.
“Plastic pollution is the most visible manifestation of how brands have externalized the environmental and human costs of their marketing activities,” Grate said. “We are challenging brands to take accountability for the pollution they cause. As a first step, they need to disclose the extent of their historical and current plastic packaging, drastically reduce plastic production, and redesign packaging and delivery systems. Corporations’ failure to acknowledge accountability and provide immediate action means missing the biggest, quickest and most important solution to stop plastic pollution.” ###
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