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Media release: More than half of global branded plastic pollution linked to just 56 companies: international research project

Posted by Communications and Marketing on April 24, 2024 in News

Wednesday, April 24, 2024 (Halifax) – A team of international researchers has found a clear link between plastic production and plastic pollution, such that a one-per-cent increase in plastic production was associated with a one-per-cent increase in plastic pollution. They also determined that companies producing single-use consumer goods disproportionately contributed to the problem more than household and retail companies.

The study, published today in Science Advances, marks the first robust quantification of the global relationship between production and pollution.

The research, led by scientists at Dalhousie University and a dozen different universities in the United States, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Estonia, Chile, Sweden and the U.K., found that 56 global companies are responsible for more than half of all branded plastic pollution. The top five producers of branded plastic pollution were Coca-Cola Company, which was responsible for 11 per cent of branded waste, followed by PepsiCo (5%), Nestlé (3%), Danone (3%), and Altria/Philip Morris International (2%). The top companies produce food, beverage or tobacco products.

"This global branded plastic pollution data speaks for itself and demonstrates unequivocally that the world's top global producers are the biggest plastics polluters,” says Dr. Tony Walker.

The five-year analysis used #BreakFreeFromPlastic brand audit data from 1,576 audit events in 84 countries. Brand audits are citizen science initiatives in which volunteers conduct waste cleanups and document the brands collected. Over five years, more than 200,000 volunteers submitted data through Break Free from Plastic or the 5 Gyres’ TrashBlitz app.

The strong relationship between plastic production and pollution, across geographies and different waste management systems, suggests that reducing the production of single-use plastic consumer goods could curb global plastic pollution. And as world leaders negotiate a Global Plastics Treaty at INC-4 this week in Ottawa, this research serves as a tool to support a legally binding treaty that includes provisions on corporate accountability, prioritizing plastic production reduction measures, and promoting reuse and refill systems.

"Our study underscores the critical role of corporate accountability in tackling plastic pollution," says Dr. Lisa Erdle, director of Science and Innovation at the 5 Gyres Institute. "I urge world leaders at INC-4 to listen to the science, and to consider the clear link between plastic production and pollution during negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty."

The team discovered that more than 50 per cent of the recovered plastic items were unbranded, highlighting the need for better transparency about production and labeling of plastic products and packaging to enhance traceability and accountability. The researchers suggest creating an international, open-access database into which companies are obliged to quantitatively track and report their products, packaging and brands to the environment.

"When I first saw the relationship between production and pollution, I was shocked," says Win Cowger of the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research. "Despite all the things big brands say they are doing, we see no positive impact from their efforts. But on the other hand, it gives me hope, that reducing plastic production by fast-moving consumer goods companies will have a strong positive impact on the environment.”

Photos available upon request.


Author contact:

Tony Walker
Professor, School for Resource and Environmental Studies
Dalhousie University 
Cell: 1-782-640-0087
Email: trwalker@dal

Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University 
Cell: 1-902-220-0491 


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