Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit 2023 : The Top Plastic Polluters

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Every year since 2018, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) has published the results of its Global Brand Audit, revealing the world's worst plastic polluters.
Brand audits are participatory community initiatives that collect, count and document plastic waste from brands to determine which companies are responsible for plastic pollution.

According to the NGO, 250 brand audits were carried out by 8,804 volunteers in 41 countries in 2023. In total, they collected and audited 537,719 pieces of plastic waste. Volunteers from 97 civil society organisations documented 6,858 brands from 3,810 parent companies.

The definition of a 'top global plastic polluter' is the parent company that, according to the data from the brand audits, is responsible for the most plastic waste in the most countries.

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The analysis reveals that this year’s top global plastic polluters are:

  1. The Coca-Cola Company
  2. Nestlé
  3. Unilever
  4. PepsiCo
  5. Mondelēz International
  6. Mars, Inc.
  7. Procter & Gamble
  8. Danone
  9. Altria
  10. British American Tobacco

Always the same Top 4

Every year since the audit began six years ago, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Nestlé have been among the top four global plastic polluters.
Close behind, Unilever, Mondelēz International, Procter & Gamble and Mars, Inc. have all remained in the top ten every year.
The Coca-Cola Company has been the top polluter every year, but this year it broke its own record with a total of 33,820 pieces of plastic waste - more than in any year since the project began. But: For the first time, PepsiCo's plastic waste exceeded that of The Coca-Cola Company. However, according to the methodology, which takes into account how many countries a brand is present in, PepsiCo didn't make the top spot as its waste was found in 30 countries compared to Coca-Cola's 40.

The biggest plastic polluters are also the biggest users of single-use plastics, according to the data from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Global Commitment 2023 Progress Report: the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies with the largest total weight of annual plastic packaging in metric tonnes in 2022 were The Coca-Cola Company (3,430,000), PepsiCo (2,600,000) and Nestlé (927,000).

Legal action against polluters

2023 was a challenging year for the companies on this list, as legal action against them continued to escalate.
PepsiCo was sued for both misleading the public about its single-use plastic elimination goals and endangering the environment in New York over its plastic pollution.

In addition, after three separate lawsuits were filed against The Coca-Cola Company in the US in 2020 and 20212, litigation against top polluters escalated in Europe in 2023. BFFP Europe member organisations launched a case against Danone in France and partnered with the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) to file a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé, arguing that "100% recycled" and "100% recyclable" claims on disposable beverage bottles sold across the EU are misleading to consumers. Brand audit data is often cited as evidence in these cases, says the BFFP.

The NGO is also critical of the fact that despite their own self-imposed voluntary sustainability targets to tackle plastic pollution, the most polluting companies in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector remain exactly the same year after year.

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