June 13th, 2024

Study links top global brands directly to increasing plastic pollution

Extensive five-year audit identifies top plastic polluters, highlighting the urgent need for producer accountability in addressing environmental impact.

The study revealed a disturbing trend where 50% of the plastic items found were unbranded, complicating efforts to hold specific companies accountable.
The study revealed a disturbing trend where 50% of the plastic items found were unbranded, complicating efforts to hold specific companies accountable.

In a groundbreaking study published on April 24 researchers have exposed the significant role major global brands play in contributing to plastic pollution. Utilising data from a comprehensive five-year audit covering 84 countries, the study found that The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, and Altria are among the top contributors, with these five companies alone responsible for nearly a quarter of all branded plastic waste identified.

The study, which assessed plastic waste from various global locations between 2018 and 2022, revealed a disturbing trend where 50% of the plastic items found were unbranded, complicating efforts to hold specific companies accountable. This has led to calls for mandated producer reporting to improve traceability and reduce pollution.

"Producers of plastic items need to become more transparent and accountable for their products throughout their lifecycle," explained one of the lead researchers in the study. This sentiment is echoed by environmentalists who believe that identifying the brands responsible for plastic pollution is crucial for enacting effective environmental policies.

The data collected showed a direct correlation between the amount of plastic produced by a company and the pollution it causes, establishing a clear link that suggests larger companies do not necessarily manage waste more effectively than smaller ones. Researchers found a "strong log-log linear relationship" indicating that a 1% increase in production correlates with a similar increase in pollution.

Moreover, the study advocates for significant changes in how plastic production is regulated, suggesting that reducing the production of single-use plastics could drastically decrease the amount of pollution. The research team has also proposed the creation of an international open-access database to track and report plastic production and waste, which could serve as a critical tool for managing and mitigating plastic pollution globally.

Key findings from the study

  • Top five brands identified as major polluters: The Coca-Cola Company (11%), PepsiCo (5%), Nestlé (3%), Danone (3%), and Altria (2%).

  • A strong correlation exists between the amount of plastic produced and the subsequent pollution, suggesting that reducing plastic production is essential for reducing pollution.

  • Over 50% of plastic items found were unbranded, underscoring the need for better product labeling and company accountability.

Policy implications

The study calls for a paradigm shift in how the world regulates the production of plastics. By holding producers accountable and mandating more stringent reporting and labeling practices, it may be possible to significantly curb global plastic pollution. The findings also support the push for legislative changes that would require producers to reduce the use of non-essential and single-use plastics, aiming for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to production and consumption.