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Big brands slammed over burned plastics

Four of the world’s biggest consumer brands are being accused of driving up global greenhouse gas emissions because millions of their plastic bottles and other packaging are being burnt in developing countries instead of being recycled.

A study for the international relief and development agency Tearfund has found that the emissions produced from the open burning of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever’s plastic packaging is a major contribution to global pollution. It said burned plastic creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 – the same annual footprint as two million cars. Coca-Cola said to be the worst with 200 000 tonnes of plastic pollution – or around eight billion bottles burned or dumped.

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The research focussed on plastic pollution in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines. Tearfund says the four must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets.

Dr Ruth Valerio, Tearfund’s director of global advocacy and influencing, says: ‘At present, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their eco-commitments. These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems.’

Since May 2019, Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign has been challenging each company to do more, based on a four-point plan. Tearfund says Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have barely started, with Unilever making progress.

Huge recycling efforts claimed

Reuters reported their responses: Coca-Cola said it was working to increase the use of returnable and refillable packaging and was aiming for every plastic bottle to contain ‘at least 50% recycled plastic by 2030’; PepsiCo said it had set a target to decrease ‘virgin plastic content’ across its beverage business by 35% by 2025; Nestlé has committed to making 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025; Unilever has committed to reduce its total plastic use by more than 100,000 tonnes by 2025. Unilever also planned to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025.

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