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Coca-Cola ‘tops’ plastic leaderboard as Extended Producer Responsibility delayed

The US-based soft drink giant has again been named and shamed for its contribution to global pollution, just as UK policy on making companies accountable has floundered. 

According to the Surfers Against Sewage Brand Audit Report, Coca-Cola is responsible for almost one-fifth of all branded pollution collected in the last year of organised UK clean ups. This is despite new initiatives by the company aimed at addressing environmental impact. 

McDonald’s beat PepsiCo to second place, at 11% of salvaged items. Also on the list were Mondelez Internatonal, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Tesco PLC, Haribo, Nestle, Mars Incorporated, Heineken Holding N.V., Carlsberg Group and Red Bull GmbH.

Results are based on almost 500 individual clean up operations in the UK, in which 4,000 volunteers took part over a 12 month period. Locations included coastlines, canalsides, bridleways and urban streets. 

The fishing industry accounted for 11% of all polluting items in the audit, although this rises to 16% when looking at beach locations specifically. A 5% increase on the previous 12 months, rope is now the third most abundant non-branded item after ‘miscellaneous plastic’ and cigarette butts. More than 130 items were also logged in the vape and e-cigarette category. 

‘The results of this year’s Brand Audit are shocking, but sadly not surprising. 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,’ said Izzy Ross, Campaigns Manager at Surfers Against Sewage.

‘This Dirty Dozen of plastic polluting companies need to clean up their act. 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,’ she continued. ‘These industry giants have the power to save or condemn our ocean. At the moment they’re choosing the latter.’

Environment Journal has reported extensively on the UK’s lack of clear and effective policy for waste management. Our recent industry-led feature looked at Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the ‘need to unbox clear policy’. This was published after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was reportedly considering delaying rollout of the scheme until next year. 

More recently, this week he reassured people there would be no delay, but admitted industry had raised serious concerns about EPR – not least in terms of cost to business and support. However, fees will not come into effect until October 2025 at the earliest, despite calls from environmental groups to press on and not bow to pressure from food producers and retailers. 

Last week, we also looked at Defra’s blundered consultation on the Deposit Return Scheme, which critics argue was a waste of time as the department went on to ignore its own advice and then refuse to reveal costs upon request. 

More on waste and recycling: 

Packaging Extended Producer Accountability explained

Extended Producer Responsibility: The urgent need to unbox clear policy

Britons ‘incorrectly binning’ enough single-use vapes to circle M25 weekly

Material Focus focusing on forgotten fad gadgets

First UK supermarket switches to Prevented Ocean Plastic bottles

Image: Ian Lean

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