Report Discloses Major Drinks Producers Are Irresponsibly Contributing To Plastic Pollution Globally

‘Massive plastic pollution footprint’ of four global drinks giants, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever products, revealed in a report. They are responsible for plastic pollution of more than half a million tonnes in six developing countries each year, which could cover 83 football pitches every day, as per a recent report.

Tearfund, an NGO, has calculated the emissions of greenhouse gas from the open burning of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever produced plastic bottles, sachets, and cartons in developing nations, where waste can be mismanaged as people have no access to collections.

Based on a sample of six developing countries that could be spread across the globe, the NGO estimated emission of 4.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the plastic package burning put on to the market by these companies that are equivalent to the emissions from 2 million cars.

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China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and Nigeria, these six countries were chosen because they are sizeable developing country markets, spread across three continents. Tearfund analyzed the plastic put on the market by those four companies in these developing countries to examine the impact of single-use plastic.

The bottles, cartons, and sachets, sold in these developing countries often end up either being burned or dumped, covering 83 football pitches with plastic up to 10 centimeters deep each day and creating a pollution problem.

The report says: “This massive plastic pollution footprint, while a crisis in and of itself, is also contributing to the climate crisis.”

These four companies make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments, the report added.

“These companies continue to sell billions of products in single-use bottles, sachets, and packets in developing countries,” says the report.

“And they do this despite knowing that: waste isn’t properly managed in these contexts; their packaging, therefore, becomes pollution; and such pollution causes serious harm to the environment and people’s health. Such actions – with such knowledge – are morally indefensible.”

The charity urged the companies to switch to refillable and reusable packaging urgently instead of sachets and plastic bottles.

Using World Bank data, the NGO estimated how much of their plastic waste is mismanaged, burned, or dumped in each country.

Their analysis of emissions quantities was based on the estimation of each company’s mismanaged proportion of plastic burned openly, and emissions factors for three different types of plastic that were combined with these amounts. Their analysis was reviewed independently.

As per the research, the open burning of plastic packaging of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever’s on street corners, open dumps, and in backyards caused emissions in developing countries that significantly contributed to the climate emergency.

Coca-Cola creates the biggest plastic pollution footprint in the six countries, which is 200,000 tonnes or about 8bn of plastic waste enough to cover 33 football pitches every day.

PepsiCo creates 137,000 tonnes of plastic pollution per year, equivalent to covering 22 football pitches a day.

Nestlé leaves a pollution footprint of 95,000 tonnes per year or covering 15 football pitches a day.

Unilever creates pollution that amounts to 70,000 tonnes per year, covering more than 11 football pitches a day. These plastics are burned or dumped each year in the six countries.

The increasing global plastic production is set to double over the next 10 to 15 years, creating plastic pollution, increased carbon emissions, and devastating health impacts for people in the poorest nations.

The communities in low- and middle-income countries continue to be swamped by mismanaged waste, including plastic pollution causing environmental destruction, diseases, and death, the report highlighted.

Dr Ruth Valerio, the director of global advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, said: “These companies are selling plastic in the full knowledge that it will be burned or dumped in developing countries: scarring landscapes, contributing to climate change and harming the health of the world’s poorest people.

“Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments. These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems.”

The report says, the multinational companies that are adopting reusable and refillable delivery mechanisms in developing countries were still few and far between.

Some positive cases included Unilever’s use of a mobile dispensing delivery system that offers refills to customers in Chile operated by Chilean social enterprise group Algramo and the scaling-up of returnable Coca-Cola PET bottles in Brazil.

“These examples show that moving to refill and reuse models is possible … there are decision-makers in companies who are willing to think outside the (single-use plastic) box,” the report said. Tearfund urged that the companies have to reduce the production and sale of single-use plastic packaging dramatically and switch to refillable as well as reusable models.

The NGO asked the companies:

  • To report the number of single-use plastic products units, they use and sell in each country by the end of this year.
  • To reduce the current amount by half, country by country, by 2025, and instead use delivery methods such as refillable or reusable containers that are environmentally sustainable.
  • To recycle the single-use plastics they sell in developing countries, ensuring collection of one for every one sold by 2022.
  • To restore dignity by working in partnership with waste pickers creating safe jobs.

A spokesperson for Nestlé said: “We have set ourselves the commitment to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. We are working hard to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and invest in innovative, alternative delivery systems, including bulk, reuse and refill options.”

A spokesperson for Unilever said: “We’ve committed to halve our use of virgin plastic in our packaging in just five years and reduce our total use of plastic by more than 100,000 tonnes. This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to packaging and products, and as we speak, we’re piloting different reuse and refill formats across the world, so we can test, learn and scale these solutions.”

A PepsiCo spokesperson said: “We are working to reduce the amount of plastic we use and have set a target to, by 2025, decrease virgin plastic content across our beverage business by 35 per cent. Between July 2018 and 2019 we pledged over $51m to global partnerships designed to boost recycling rates to support a circular economy.”

A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring the packaging in which we serve our products is sustainable and our efforts are focused on continuing to improve the eco-design and innovation of our packaging. As part of a number of global commitments, we have committed to getting every bottle back for each one sold by 2030, with the aim to ensure that every plastic bottle contains at least 50% recycled plastic by 2030.”

The impact of the burning of waste was felt every day

Royda Joseph is 32. She lives with her family, including three children in a community situated next to the Pugu Kinyamwezi rubbish dump in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The impact of pollution from the dump has blighted their lives. It is frequently on fire, and dust and litter spread through the community, attracting huge amounts of flies.

The diseases related to plastic and other mismanaged waste caused the death of people between 400,000 and a million every year in low- and middle-income countries.

Joseph said, every day, her family feels the impact of the burning of waste. “The dump is on fire every two days,” she said.

“Sometimes, when it is on fire, the smoke is so dark and huge that you can’t see the person in front of you or the house next to you. Because of that smoke, I get breathing problems and coughing and eye problems too. The kids also get a lot of breathing problems: they cough a lot. When it is really bad, there is no way that you can deal with it without going to the hospital.

“The smoke and the fire come when the weather is very dry and the gases are coming out of the fire … when the dump is on fire, it can take one to two hours until they call the fire brigade to come here and try to stop it. It is that bad. Sometimes it can take two to three hours because of the traffic.”

At times Joseph was compelled to leave her home due to the density of the smoke.

“Many times when the dump is on fire and really bad, when the smoke is so heavy, I shift to my relatives for a time,” she said. Joseph is concerned for her children’s future. “I am worried about my children’s health because always when it is very dry, the smoke always comes,” she said. “I am sure in the long run they will develop health complications.”

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About Arindom Ghosh

A professional writer, editor, blogger, copywriter, and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, New York. He has been part of many reputed domestic and global online magazines and publications. An avid reader and a nature lover by heart, when he is not working, he is probably exploring the secrets of life.