One Big Company Is Tied to 11% of Branded Plastic Waste

That would be Coca-Cola, though PepsiCo isn't too far behind
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2024 12:36 PM CDT
Updated Apr 28, 2024 4:10 PM CDT
One Big Company Is Tied to 11% of Branded Plastic Waste
A child sits inside a canoe with empty plastic bottles he collected to sell for recycling in the floating slum of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria, on Nov. 8, 2022.   (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

More than 50% of plastic pollution around the world can't be traced to a company, as the elements have erased all branding. But of the pollution that remains branded, more than half can be traced to 56 companies, and more than 10% to just one, according to a new study. A team of researchers led by scientists at Canada's Dalhousie University worked with data gathered by 100,000 volunteers who collected 1.8 million pieces of plastic waste from locations in 84 countries across six continents between 2018 and 2022, per the Washington Post. They linked 11% of the items to the Coca-Cola Company, 5% to PepsiCo, 3% to Nestle, and 2% to Danone, per the CBC.

In a statement, Coca-Cola says it aims to make all of its packaging recyclable by 2025 and "to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030," when packaging will include at least 50% recycled material. PepsiCo says it has worked to "reduce the packaging we use, scale reusable models, and partner to further develop collection and recycling systems" and is advocating for a "global policy framework to help address plastic pollution." Nestle says it's "working hard to help address" plastic pollution by reducing its use of new plastic while incorporating more recycled materials into packaging. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year.

But just 9% of plastic is recycled, so "recycling alone isn't going to solve this problem," Tony Walker, an expert in resource and environmental management at Dalhousie University and co-author of the study published Wednesday in Science Advances, tells the CBC. "Eliminating these hard-to-recycle plastics is another solution, as is holding these corporations accountable to pay or to design better products that don't make their way into the environment." "Production really is pollution," adds study co-author Lisa Erdle, director of science at the 5 Gyres Institute, per the Guardian, noting that as the share of plastic production rises, the world's share of plastic pollution saw the same percentage increase.

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Plastic, made from fossil fuels, are expected to account for half of the growth in oil demand by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. However, representatives from 176 countries are currently attending negotiations in Ottawa about an international treaty on plastic pollution, which could include limits on plastic production. Parties hope to sign the treaty at a meeting in South Korea later this year. Researchers are also calling for an international database to aid in the tracking of plastic pollution and help hold contributors to account, per the CBC. (More plastic stories.)

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