Revealed: The ‘Dirty Dozen’ brands responsible for the most plastic and packaging pollution in the UK – so is YOUR favourite on the list?
- Experts analysed 30,745 items from 500 beach, river, woodland, and streets
- They found Coca-Cola tops the list as Britain’s worst branded packaging polluter
While many of us try our best to reduce our plastic consumption, figures show that British households collectively throw away nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic every year.
Now, new data has revealed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ brands responsible for the vast majority (70 per cent) of branded plastic and packaging pollution in the UK.
Researchers found that The Coca-Cola Company tops the list as Britain’s worst plastic and packaging polluter, followed by McDonald’s and PepsiCo.
‘The results of this year’s Brand Audit are shocking, but sadly not surprising,’ said Izzy Ross, Campaigns Manager at Surfers Against Sewage.
‘Year on year we’re seeing the same culprits responsible for disgusting amounts of plastic pollution on our beaches, and in our cities and countryside.’
New data has revealed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ brands responsible for the vast majority (70 per cent) of branded plastic and packaging pollution in the UK
Researchers from Surfers Against Sewage found that Coca-Cola tops the list as Britain’s worst plastic and packaging polluter, followed by McDonald’s and PepsiCo
The Dirty Dozen
For their analysis, the team enlisted the help of 4,240 volunteers, who picked up items across 500 beach, river, woodland, and street cleans.
In total, the volunteers collected 30,745 individual items between 6 June 2022 and 5 June 2023.
An analysis of this rubbish revealed that 36 per cent came from just 327 brands.
The Coca-Cola Company, which owns several popular brands including Monster, Coca-Cola and Costa, topped the list as the worst polluter, with 1,820 items collected.
This was followed by McDonald’s, which was responsible for 1,220 items, and PepsiCo, whose brands include 7Up, Pepsi and Walkers and made up 976 of the items.
Rounding out the ‘Dirty Dozen’ were Mondelez International (home to brands including Cadbury, Maynard’s Bassetts, Philadelphia and Ritz), AB InBev (whose brands include Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois), Tesco, Haribo, Nestle, Mars, Heineken, Carlsberg, and Red Bull.
‘This Dirty Dozen of plastic polluting companies need to clean up their act,’ Ms Ross said.
‘They must be held accountable for their pollution and driven to do more to adopt circular business models to reduce their plastic and (by extension) their carbon footprint.
The Coca-Cola Company, which owns several popular brands including Monster, Coca-Cola and Costa, topped the list as the worst polluter, with 1,820 items collected
PepsiCo, whose brands include 7Up, Pepsi and Walkers made up 976 of the items collected by the volunteers
READ MORE: Walkers crisp packets made from recycled plastic bags and biscuit wrappers trialled in the UK
PepsiCo, which owns UK brands including Walkers crisps, plans to use 100 per cent recycled or renewable content in all crisp and snack packets by 2030
‘These industry giants have the power to save or condemn our ocean. At the moment they’re choosing the latter.’
Aside from the branded items, items from the fishing industry were found to be a leading source of plastic waste, with lines, nets and ropes found to make up 11 per cent of the items collected.
Other common items included cigarette butts and e-cigarettes, with 131 items logged in this category.
Based on the findings, Surfers Against Sewage is calling on corporations to reduce their plastic packaging and take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products.
In addition, the team suggests that an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme (DRS) for all drinks containers could help to reduce Britain’s plastic pollution.
‘A deposit return scheme is one of the most effective ways to reduce plastic pollution,’ Ms Ross said.
‘DRS schemes have been shown to be highly successful in other countries, and there’s no reason to assume this wouldn’t be the case in the UK.
‘Unfortunately, the government continues to stall on plans to implement a DRS.
‘In doing so, it is condemning our ocean, beaches and rivers to a further 8bn extra pieces of plastic a year, as plastic gradually chokes these fragile ecosystems to death.’
Speaking to MailOnline, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said: ‘It is clear the world is facing a packaging waste problem, and we have a responsibility to help solve it.
‘At Coca-Cola, we’re continuing to work with our partners to encourage more recycling, whilst actively supporting several initiatives aimed at making litter a thing of the past.’
Aside from the branded items, items from the fishing industry were found to be a leading source of plastic waste, with lines, nets and ropes found to make up 11 per cent of the items collected
In total, the volunteers collected 30,745 individual items between 6 June 2022 and 5 June 2023
A Nestle spokesperson added that the results were ‘not at all nice to see.’
‘While the results are not a surprise to us, they are not at all nice to see and we are aware of the scale,’ they told MailOnline.
‘We make some of the most well-known food and drink brands in the world and many of them are packaged with plastic in the interests of safety, freshness, and affordability.
‘However, it is completely unacceptable for that packaging to end up as litter in the natural environment, it endangers wildlife, and threatens ecosystems and the food chain.
‘In the UK and Ireland, our efforts continue at pace to ensure as close to 100% of our packaging is designed for recycling by 2025, and we continue to work towards all of our packaging being recyclable or reusable.’
A PepsiCo spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that litter on our beaches is a huge problem, and we know there is a significant role we must play to help address this challenge,’ while a McDonald’s spokesperson added: ‘As a business, we continue to make changes to our packaging in order to reduce plastic waste and have already made a number of moves in this area.’
MailOnline has contacted the other brands listed for comment.
Eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean every year
Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled.
With half of these going to landfill, half of all plastic bottles that are recycled go to waste.
Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.
This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable.
Bottles are a major contributor to the increasing amount of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
Researchers warned eight million tonnes of plastics currently find their way into the ocean every year – the equivalent of one truckload every minute.
The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.
At current rates, this will worsen to four truckloads per minute in 2050 and outstrip native life to become the largest mass inhabiting the oceans.
An overwhelming 95 per cent of plastic packaging – worth £65 – £92billion – is lost to the economy after a single use, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report stated.
And available research estimates that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today.
Plastic pollution is ruining the ecosystems of the world, both marine and terrestrial. It litters shorelines, snags animals and suffocates entire populations of animals
So much plastic is dumped into the sea each year that it would fill five carrier bags for every foot of coastline on the planet, scientists have warned.
More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20.
The US and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.
While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world total, the United States contributes just 77,000 tons, which is less than one percent, according to the study published in the journal Science.
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