The Break Free From Plastic movement has been gearing up for COP26 in Glasgow. The movement released its list of top plastic polluters, collected over 13,000 signatures on a petition calling for the Biden administration to stop approvals for new and expanded petrochemical and plastic facilities, and hosted an event about environmental racism.
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Last week, Break Free From Plastic released its 2021 global brand audit. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo took the top two spots for plastic pollution for the fourth straight year. This year, Unilever displaced Nestle for the non-coveted third spot. Nestle came in fourth and Procter & Gamble fifth.
Break Free From Plastic holds companies responsible for the plastic winding up on the shores of the world’s oceans and rivers — even if the companies didn’t throw it away themselves. This year, 11,184 volunteers in 45 countries conducted 440 beach cleanups/brand audits. They collected 330,493 plastic waste items, 58% of which bore a consumer brand.
Coca-Cola has pledged to collect an empty bottle for every bottle sold. But the 2021 brand audit retrieved almost 20,000 pieces of plastic branded by Coke, which is greater than the next top two polluters combined.
Nor is PepsiCo dazzling the world with greenness, despite a recent commitment to cut its use of virgin plastic in half by 2030. Since 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, virgin plastic is a major target of eco-warriors. Unilever’s move up to third place is especially embarrassing, as the company is a principal partner for the COP26 climate change summit.
“Despite their promises to do better, the same corporate polluters make the brand audit list year after year. It is clear that we cannot rely on these companies to do the right thing,” Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said in a statement. “It’s time for governments to step up and enact policies to reduce waste and hold producers accountable.” The only way to reduce plastic pollution, he said, is to reduce plastic production. “If world leaders do not take bold action to reduce plastic production, there is no way that we will meet the 1.5°C target and avoid climate catastrophe.” Break Free From Plastic’s petition against new, expanded petrochemical companies aims to push politicians to do just that.