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Coca-Cola remains top plastic polluter in pandemic year

Multinational giant Coca-Cola Company remained as the top global plastic polluter for the third consecutive year, according to a brand audit released by global movement Break Free from Plastic on Wednesday, December 2.

PepsiCo and Nestlé also remained among the world's top 3 plastic polluters for the third consecutive year or since 2018, based on the audit that mobilizes citizens to count and document the brands of plastic waste found in their communities every year.

For 2020, volunteers collected 346,494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries. Volunteers collected 13,834 branded Coca-Cola plastics in 51 countries, 2,102 more Coca-Cola plastic items collected than in last year’s brand audit.

Also included in the top 10 global polluters are familiar brands Unilever, Mondelez International, Mars, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris International, Colgate-Palmolive, and Perfetti Van Melle.

The brand audit is initiated by Break Free From Plastic (BFFP), a global movement of organizations pushing for the reduction of plastic usage.

Plastic pollution during pandemic

The global health crisis raised concerns that the increase of usage of single-use protective gear might hamper the progress of plastic reduction efforts.

“There’s been an upsurge of PPE and COVID-19-related waste materials,” said Von Hernandez, Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator.

The audit collected 770 single-use face masks and 419 single-use gloves. Masks are made primarily from polypropylene, a lightweight plastic material. Hernandez also noted the upsurge of take-away packaging and delivery containers as people are forced indoors.

Hernandez said that surviving the health crisis does not mean compromising the gains in the movement against plastic use.

“Addressing the pandemic doesn’t mean increasing our reliance on plastic,” said Hernandez, noting public health experts’ assurance that it is safe to use reusables even during the pandemic.

If anything, these extraordinary times provide a “good opportunity to pilot alternative systems that move us away from the [plastic] problem,” said Hernandez. 

Holding companies accountable

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, if these companies continue “business as usual,” the amount of plastic leaking into the environment will increase by 40% by 2030.

In the Philippines, leading corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Mondelez, and Universal Robina have banded together to form a coalition aiming to make packaging sustainable in 5 years.

Companies have piloted 100% recycled packaging such as Coca-Cola Philippines’ Viva! eco-bottle. NutriAsia Incorporated established condiment refilling stations in Quezon City and Taguig City.

However, Hernandez says “there’s been very little progress” on corporations’ goals towards sustainable packaging by 2025. 

Advocates in the Philippines have been pushing for a policy ban on single-use plastics. Several bills are pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Two bills extending responsibility of waste collection, treatment, and recycling to manufacturers are also pending in the legislative branch. – Rappler.com

Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum is a member of Rappler's digital communications team. When off the grid, she’s either a hundred/thousand meters above sea level – or dreaming about it. You may email her at iya.gozum@rappler.com.

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