5 companies create a quarter of plastic pollution: Study

5 companies create a quarter of plastic pollution: Study

Five companies are responsible for a quarter of all plastic waste worldwide, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

The study, conducted by the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research, involved surveys of plastic waste collected from 2018 to 2022.

Of more than 1.8 million pieces of waste collected, more than 900,000 had visible branding. The researchers identified just under 60 companies as the source of the majority of global plastic waste, and five companies as the source of 24 percent of it. Coca-Cola alone was the source of 11 percent of global branded plastic pollution, the biggest single contributor identified by the researchers. The other four biggest producers were, in order, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone and Altria.

The study also found that for every 1 percent increase in plastic usage, its contribution to plastic pollution increases 1 corresponding percent.

It comes in the wake of a February report by an anti-plastic production group that found the vast majority of plastics cannot be fully recycled and thus typically are consigned to landfills instead. A separate report from scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicated that the plastics industry releases up to quadruple the amount of planet-warming gases as air travel.

“The thing that really surprised me the most was the relationship between plastic production and plastic pollution,” Win Cowger, a research director at the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research and the lead author of the study, told The Hill in an interview.

He added that the study also found “there was a slight increase in plastic pollution if companies were from the food and beverage sector” compared to other sectors like retail and household, suggesting single-use plastic products are driving the waste.

“Altria reviewed the study and believes it is fundamentally incorrect regarding our company,” an Altria spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “The study includes data from more than 80 countries, yet Altria’s cigarette company Philip Morris USA, only operates in the US. So, it is impossible for Altria and PM USA to be responsible for 2% of global branded plastics pollution this study reports.”

In response to this, Cowger pointed out that this assumed none of their products would cross international lines and contribute to waste, despite American tobacco products being considered a “luxury good.”

In a longer statement, the Moore Institute added that “Altria and PMI are two separate companies but they own many of the same brands with many of the same products in separate countries (e.g. Marlboro, L&M, Parliment), we used these references from each of their sites to come to the conclusion that Altria and PMI could not be separated based on brand names alone.”

“Our goal is to make 100% of our packaging recyclable globally by 2025 and to use at least 50% recycled material in our packaging by 2030,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told The Hill. “We also aim to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030, and we have also set out to increase the use of reusable or returnable packaging to 25% by 2030 through, for example, refillable bottles.”

The Hill has reached out to Nestlé, PepsiCo and Danone for comment.

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