31 March 2020
A new report by Tearfund calculated for the first time how many tonnes of plastic pollution, four multinationals, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-cola, Nestlé, and Unilever, dump in six developing countries: half a million tonnes! Coca-Cola turns out to be the biggest polluter of all and is alone responsible for 200,000 tonnes of this pollution.
The calculation has been made for six countries; China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and Nigeria. According to Tearfund’s report, The Burning Question: will companies reduce their plastic use?, a football field full of plastic packaging waste with a 10 cm layer is added every 20 minutes in these countries. And that is only what these four multinationals in these six countries cause. The reality, of course, is that these multinationals sell their products in 190 to 200 countries. These are plastics that are not recycled but are dumped or incinerated in the open air. The environmental and health problems that this causes get worse every year.
83 soccer fields per day
The report is part of Tearfund’s Rubbish campaign, which started in May last year. To stay with the football fields, the four are jointly responsible for covering 83 football fields per 24-hour period, of which Coca-Cola fills 33 per 24-hour period, and Unilever – the ‘cleanest’ of the four – 11 football fields.
The report not only presents an abstract figure, but it also shows what it means in practice when people are forced to burn their plastic. Interviews with residents of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, explain what the consequences are, not only for their health but also, for example, for their wallets, because they have to buy medicines. It is no wonder that 86% of the 2,000 people interviewed consider plastic pollution to be a severe problem, and 91% are more concerned about it than three years ago.
All four multinationals sell plastic-packed products in middle and low-income countries with a weak waste management system. In total, they sell billions of bottles, sachets, and trays each year. These companies do this in full knowledge of the facts:
- Their plastic packaging is not properly collected and recycled;
- That their packaging, therefore, contributes to increasing plastic pollution, because the packaging is dumped or incinerated in the open air;
- That this pollution causes severe and growing damage to the environment and human and animal health.
The judgment of Tearfund is clear: this can in no way be morally defended.
What do the multinationals intend to do about it?
The main question is whether the multinationals will reduce their plastic use in the foreseeable future. Tearfund has therefore made an inventory of the measures they have announced. All four have now promised to publish their plastic use annually.
Coca-Cola – Promises to collect and recycle as many bottles in 2030 as the company sells per country. There is no promise to reduce the amount of new (virgin) plastic.
Pepsico – Promises to reduce the use of new plastic in bottles by 20% by 2025. But does not promise anything about the collection of bottles, nor about lowering the total use of plastic.
Nestlé – Promises to use a third less virgin plastic by 2025, but says nothing about an overall reduction in plastic use. It does, however, promise to collect as much plastic as it sells in twelve (unspecified) countries.
Unilever – Promises to use half the amount of new plastic by 2025 and reduce total plastic use by a sixth. It will collect at least as much plastic as it sells.
What should the multinationals do?
Tearfund has made four demands on the multinationals:
- This year, publish the number of one-way packaging sold annually in each country;
- Reduce this number by half by 2025. Switch to alternative sales methods, such as refillable and reusable bins;
- Recycle by 2022 any packaging sold in developing countries and thus ensure an adequate collection system;
- Restore the dignity of waste-pickers by working with them and setting up recycling systems that do not harm society or the environment.
Tearfund concludes that the currently announced measures are far from sufficient, which Plastic Soup Foundation endorses.
You might also like