Once again, members of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, community groups and individuals have set out to answer the question – Who’s responsible for the plastic pollution plaguing our communities, natural environments and especially our oceans?  

Surfrider Foundation – Credit: Nicole Holman

This year, Greenpeace partnered with Surfrider Vancouver, Surfrider Vancouver Island, Surfrider Pacific Rim, members of Master Recycler Vancouver, Ecology Action Centre, Coop de solidarité Éconord, a small group of university students from France, and Greenpeace volunteer local group members to see who are the major culprits in Canada.

From April to September, nearly 400 volunteers participated in helping to gather data from nine locations across Canada. Plastic pollution was collected, sorted, categorized and recorded to determine the different types of pollution generated by our throwaway culture and the companies that fuel it. Today, we are sharing the results along with reflections from some of our partners!


The usual suspects :/

Click on the infographic to enlarge it. 

It may come as no surprise that at the top of the list are Nestlé and Tim Hortons. They have retained the first two spots on our Top 5 Plastic Polluters list for the second year in a row.

As Canada’s most iconic plastic pollution, the Tim Hortons cups were recognizable across locations, and Tim’s products were the most collected items at six of the nine locations! Nestlé’s second year at number one gives more fodder for Greenpeace’s global campaign that calls on the world’s biggest food company, that uses almost two million tonnes of plastic a year, to commit to move away from plastic once and for all and embrace reusables. 

New this year is Starbucks, which ends up in third place. Closely behind are McDonald‘s and The Coca-Cola Company, both of which made the list in 2018.

These five companies alone account for 39% of all waste collected and identified during clean-up operations. This is not surprising considering the astronomical amount of disposable packaging they produce all year round.

“This was incredibly eye-opening for many of our volunteers to not only see the amount and types of garbage we were collecting, but also see the many different brands that are responsible for that waste. On this day we collected the most waste from the Tim Hortons brand. Surfrider Foundation Vancouver Island recognizes that educating people to make better consumer choices is only half the battle, it must also be about holding the companies responsible for the waste they are producing is key to ending plastic pollution.” ~Chris-Ann Lake, Co-Manager l Surfrider Vancouver Island 

Despite their many statements about the recyclability of their products or the efforts made to switch to alternative materials such as paper or bio-based plastics that are often noted as “compostable” or “biodegradable”, these brand and waste audits have exposed the truth behind their greenwashing.

Shifting the problem does not solve it

During the cleanups, “recyclable” plastic packaging and “100% recycled” plastic bottles were collected on beaches, river banks and parks across Canada, while paper straws and “compostable” cups or “biodegradable” bags were found perfectly intact.

Paper products including paper straws collected during the cleanup at Kits Beach on Coast Salish Territory, Vancouver, B.C.

After cigarette butts, the most commonly collected single-use plastic item categories were bottles and caps, food wrappers, cups and lids, and straws and stir sticks. Plastic bags also made the top 10. 

The major producers of single-use plastic products continue to deflect the responsibility back on their customers, requiring them to bring their own containers, recycle or dispose of things properly and then either pay through taxes to clean up the waste or physically pick it up themselves in their communities. 

“We cleaned an estimated 6 km of coastline during our 8-day remote shoreline cleanup in the Broken Group Islands this past August, which is astonishing considering the mountain of plastic we retrieved. The BC coastline is 25,725 km, and the Canadian coastline is 243,042 km. This makes it clear that we cannot clean our way out of the plastic pollution crisis, we need to collect data and conduct audits so that we can gain information that will assist us in addressing the roots of this persistent global problem. “ ~Lilly Woodbury, Chapter Manager/Surfrider Pacific Rim

In Canada, 86% of plastics recovered end up in landfills, a tiny 9% of it is actually recycled, and the rest is either burned or ends up in the environment. It may not seem like a lot in terms of percentage, but when you consider the billions of throwaway plastics we use each week in Canada, and around the world, it’s little wonder that a garbage truck worth of plastic leaks into our oceans every minute. 

Pile of trash collected during the cleanup at Kits Beach on Coast Salish Territory, Vancouver, B.C.

Knowing this, it is clear that we cannot allow corporate responsibility to stop at the sales counter. It is time for these polluters, and all companies reliant on disposable plastics and packaging, to get real about their problem and its impacts on the environment and ourselves. That is why Greenpeace is urging these companies to rethink their distribution systems by opting for reusable solutions.

Today, you can say enough is enough to the top polluters in 3 ways. Engage the five polluters online by writing to them on Twitter, rating them through Google Review and writing directly to their customer service department so that they get the message directly from you!

To learn more about the results of the audit, check out our media briefing

Change is coming and our movement is growing. Together we can create a brighter, plastic-free future!