COP26 sponsor Unilever rises in the ranks to be the world’s third worst plastic polluter according to 2021 Brand Audit

Manila/Jakarta/Bangkok/ Kuala Lumpur– The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are ranked as the world’s top plastic polluters for the 4th consecutive year according to Break Free From Plastic, whose latest global Brand Audit report also charges the same leading plastic polluters for fueling the climate crisis.   

Global beach cleanups were carried out by more than 11,000 volunteers in 45 countries to identify the most common plastic polluters. This year’s Brand Audit found nearly 20,000 Coca-Cola branded products, which represents more pollution than the next two top polluters combined—as has been the case each year since 2019. This suggests that Coca-Cola’s pledge to collect one bottle for every one sold is having little impact on the company’s plastic pollution.

PepsiCo also remains one of the top three plastic polluters for the third year in a row. Despite the company’s recent voluntary commitments to halve the use of virgin plastic by 2030, PepsiCo will need to make a more ambitious shift to reusable containers in order to move down the list, given the sheer volume of PepsiCo branded plastic pollution being collected around the world.

For the first time since global brand audits began in 2018, Unilever has risen to become the #3 top polluter during the same year that the company is serving as a Principal Partner for the UN climate change summit COP26 in Glasgow. Given that 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and that the fossil fuel corporations are actively shifting their focus to plastic as an increasing source of revenue, Unilever’s role in COP26 is particularly insulting.

All of these companies are contributing significantly to both the climate crisis and the plastic pollution crisis.

Abigail Aguilar, Plastics Campaign Regional Coordinator, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: 

“It’s not surprising to see the same big brands as the world’s top plastic polluters for four years in a row. These companies claim to be addressing the plastic crisis, yet they continue to invest in false solutions while teaming up with oil companies to produce even more plastic. To stop this mess and combat climate change, multinationals like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever must end their addiction to single-use plastic packaging and move away from fossil fuels.”

Ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, this year’s Brand Audit shines a light on how the plastic industry is fueling the climate crisis, i.e. how Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies (FMCGs) like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever, are driving the fossil fuel industry’s expansion of plastic production

Ahmed Elhadj Taieb, BFFP Youth Ambassador and General Secretary of Youth for Climate Tunisia, said: 

“Younger generations are set to inherit the climate and plastic crises exacerbated by these polluting corporations who do not have concrete and real measures to avert these crises. The plastic industry’s expansion plans will contribute to locking the world into a catastrophic high-emissions trajectory, hurting our chances of reaching below 1.5 degrees Centigrade (°C). We cannot continue with business-as-usual anymore, so we are taking action to hold these corporate polluters accountable.” 

Emma Priestland, Global Corporate Campaigns Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic, said: 

“The world’s top plastic polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging. We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels, including the significant amount of fossil fuels that are or will be turned into plastic. FMCGs need to reveal the extent of their plastic footprint, reduce it significantly by setting and implementing ambitious targets, and reinvent their packaging to be reusable and plastic-free. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever should be leading the way in finding real solutions.” 

Recent studies have exposed that the top corporations behind the plastic pollution crisis are also contributing to the climate crisis. Consumer goods brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Danone, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Mars, reportedly all buy packaging from manufacturers supplied with plastic resin by well-known petrochemical companies such as Aramco, Total, Exxon, and Shell. 

Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director of GAIA, said: 

“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. It’s time for governments to step up and enact policies to reduce waste and hold producers accountable. Reducing plastic production is the only sure way to reduce plastic pollution, but our analysis of nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement (NDCs) shows that very few countries have made serious commitments to do so. Current investments in expanded plastic production mean that plastic will take upwards of 13% of the 1.5°C carbon budget by 2050. 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.” 

Over 300 organizations in 76 countries have signed an open letter to COP26 delegates demanding a shift away from fossil fuel extraction and plastic production, and an investment in zero waste alternatives. 

This year, Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit–an annual citizen action initiative that involves counting and documenting the brands on plastic waste found in communities–collected 330,493 pieces of plastic from 45 countries through 440 organized brand audits conducted by over 11,000 volunteers  across the globe. 


Media contact:

Jed Alegado
[email protected] +(63) 917 607 0248

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