Dirty Dozen: 70% of branded plastic packaging pollution across the UK can be traced back to just 12 companies

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Every year, 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean.

Plastic has been found in the deepest reaches of the ocean and as far away as the Antarctic – polluting the environment, harming wildlife and finding its way into the human food chain.

A new report from ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage has revealed that 70% of all branded packaging pollution across the UK can be traced back to just 12 companies.

The charity’s annual Citizen Science Brand Audit exposes the ‘Dirty Dozen’ companies responsible for a whopping 70% of branded packing pollution found across the UK: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonalds, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Tesco, Red Bull GmbH, Suntory, Carlsberg Group, Heineken Holding and Mars.

For the 3rd year running, Coca-Cola has taken the top spot. Thanks to the power of people pressure Coca-Cola recently announced a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25% of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.

There are a multitude of reasons why pollution was found across the areas cleaned, from deliberate or accidental littering, to overflowing bins and even strong winds. But the root cause of plastic pollution is the systemic over-production and over-consumption of non-essential, single use, throw away items, including plastics.

There has been little change in this year’s Dirty Dozen making a mockery of their supposedly ambitious sustainability pledges. Brands are failing to reduce packaging, switch to reuse models and enable recycling. As the top three polluters, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonalds are responsible for a staggering 38% of all branded pollution found.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said:

“Year after year, our Citizen Science Brand Audit reveals the same huge companies are responsible for the packaging pollution choking our environment. Despite public sustainability commitments, these dirty brands are failing to take meaningful action to stop this harm.

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We cannot stand for this blatant greenwashing any longer. Systemic change is urgently needed to end the pollution swamping the land and ocean. Businesses need to take responsibility for their polluting products and transition to models of reduction and reuse. Legislation such as an ‘all-in’ deposit scheme needs to be introduced urgently and governments must hold these companies to account.”

Surfers Against Sewage are calling on companies to end their harmful pollution by taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, reducing their packaging and adopting circular business models.

They are also demanding that government introduce an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials including glass, not just small containers classified as ‘on-the-go’. Deposit Return Schemes are already used effectively across Europe with 90% of containers prevented from becoming pollution in many cases.

Of the items monitored from this year’s Dirty Dozen, it is estimated that a massive 55% could be captured through an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme.

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