Great Britain

Big plastic polluters accused of ‘hypocrisy’ over pledges to reduce waste while lobbying to block reforms

The world’s biggest plastic producers including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé have been accused of “hypocrisy” after a report claimed that they have made public pledges to cut plastic use while undermining sustainability reforms through lobbying groups and trade associations.

Research from the Changing Markets Foundation compared public pledges made by the top 10 plastic polluters with the “behind-the-scenes” lobbying efforts of those companies.

The campaign group alleges that many had not lived up to their voluntary commitments and had “aggressively opposed” or attempted to delay legislation designed to tackle the plastics crisis.

The Coca-Cola Company is the biggest plastic polluter in the world, with a plastic footprint of 2.9 million tonnes per year, according to the report.

Researchers found that the company is committed to 10 voluntary initiatives to solve plastic waste while at the same time is also a member of at least seven trade associations that lobbied against deposit return systems or other legislation to regulate single-use plastic.  

While Coca-Cola has committed to the World Without Waste campaign, the report shows that over the last 30 years, Coca-Cola has broken, delayed or shifted the goalposts on a number of its targets. 

In 1990, for example, the company committed to having 25 per cent recycled content in its bottles, but 30 years later it has only achieved 10 per cent.  At the same time, the company has opposed progressive legislation that would help it to achieve these commitments, from deposit return systems (DRS) to redesign obligations.  

In 2017, the company U-turned on its opposition to Scotland's DRS.

While Coca-Cola has committed to a “World Without Waste”, the report states that over the last 30 years, Coca-Cola has broken, failed to meet a number of its targets. In 1990, for example, the company committed to having 25 per cent recycled content in its bottles, but 30 years later it has only achieved 10 per cent.  

At the same time, the company has opposed progressive legislation that would help it to achieve these commitments, from deposit return systems (DRS) to redesign obligations.  In 2017, the company u-turned on its opposition to Scotland's DRS.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola recognised that the company had missed its 1991 target for 25 per cent recycled plastic but was “committed to do more, faster so that we grow our business the right way”.

The company added: “This miss provided an opportunity to learn.  We are confident about our current World Without Waste goals despite them being more ambitious than our previous targets. 

“Learning from past experience, new and existing partnerships – including a meaningful one with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation –and our steadfast commitment to make a difference in the communities where we operate will help us achieve our ambitions.”

Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director at the Changing Markets Foundation, said the report exposes the hypocrisy of plastic polluters, which claim to be committed to solutions, but at the same time attempt to ensure that they can “continue pumping out cheap, disposable plastic, polluting the planet at a devastating rate”.

Ms Urbanic added: “The responsibility for this disaster lies with Big Plastic – including major household brands – which have lobbied against progressive legislation for decades, greenwashed their environmental credentials and blamed the public for littering, rather than assuming responsibility for their own actions.”

Nestlé said it was eliminating unnecessary packaging and phasing out items that are difficult to recycle. 

A spokesperson said: "We are intensifying our actions to make 100 per cent of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and to reduce our use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period. 

"In 2019, about 87 per cent of Nestlé’s total packaging by weight and 66 per cent of our total plastic packaging was already recyclable or reusable. But we know we have more work to do.

“Plastic packaging plays an important role in maintaining the quality of food and drinks and in keeping them safe. It also helps reduce food loss and waste.”

PepsiCo has been contacted for comment.

The news came as Iceland became the first major supermarket chain to reveal how much plastic it used.  

Iceland said it has a “plastic footprint” of 32,000 tonnes of plastic in 2019 and called on competitors to publish similar figures.

The supermarket has joined with campaign groups Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, A Plastic Planet and Surfers Against Sewage to call for greater transparency from businesses over their plastic use.

The groups want governments to enforce mandatory reporting on plastic packaging and ambitious targets in the Environment Bill to reduce plastic pollution.

Iceland has a commitment to eliminate all plastic packaging from its own-brand products by 2023. It said it had removed 3,794 tonnes out of the 13,000 tonnes the business was using in January 2018 by the end of 2019 – a fall of 29 per cent.

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