Eight billion Coca-Cola bottles burnt or dumped each year, driving global climate crisis

  • New report finds consumer brands Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution that is burnt or dumped per year in just six developing countries
  • The plastic that is burnt creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 - the same as 2 million cars on UK roads a year
  • Coca-Cola found to be the worst of the four companies investigated with 200,000 tonnes of plastic pollution - or around 8 billion bottles - burnt or dumped each year in these developing countries
  • PepsiCo is second worst after Coca-Cola with a plastic pollution footprint of 137,000 tonnes per year


A new study has revealed for the first time the hidden plastic pollution footprint four of the world’s biggest consumer brands are responsible for, driving up global greenhouse gas emissions.

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 on street corners, open dumps and in backyards in developing countries is a major contribution to the climate emergency.

The findings, part of the organisation’s Rubbish Campaign targeting the four global companies, show that they must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets.

Dr Ruth Valerio, director of global advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, said: “These companies are selling plastic in the full knowledge that it will be burnt or dumped in developing countries: scarring landscapes, contributing to climate change and harming the health of the world’s poorest people.”

Tearfund is the first NGO to quantify the link between the burning and dumping of plastic in developing countries from multinationals and climate change. The research focussed on plastic pollution in six developing countries - Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines.

Dr Valerio added: “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 climate change 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.”

The report also makes clear the scale of demand for change from consumers in developing countries: in a new survey of 2,000 adults aged between 18 to 64 in India conducted for Tearfund by Savanta ComRes, nine in ten (90%) respondents said they would be likely to buy their products in refillable and reusable containers as opposed to throwaway containers if it led to significantly less plastic pollution in their community and the cost was the same.

Since May 2019 Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign has been challenging each company with a four-point plan to step up the pace to take responsibility for their plastic pollution. Tearfund has ranked how well the companies are doing in committing to this plan. This league table reveals that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are barely off the starting blocks, with Unilever far ahead.

For more information on the campaign and league table visit: www.tearfund.org/rubbishcompanies

ENDS

For further information, photos, case studies and interview requests please contact: Melissa Barnston, Tearfund T: 07929 335146 or Sarann Buckby, Jersey Road PR T: 07967 468008.
For out-of-hours Tearfund media enquiries please call 07929 339813.

Notes to editors-

To read the full report, its findings and methodology visit: www.tearfund.org/theburningquestion

To find the full data results from the Savanta ComRes survey visit: hwww.comresglobal.com/polls/tearfund-plastic-use-in-india

Statistics explained-

These new estimates have been peer reviewed by three leading experts in waste and resource management. The full methodology is described in Annex 2 of the report; in brief the method follows three steps: 

  • Estimate how much plastic each company sells in each country, using a model informed by their global plastic footprint and national sales and volume figures. 
  • Estimate the proportion of this that is dumped or burnt in each country, using data on waste management compiled by the World Bank, plus data on other specific collection initiatives. 
  • Calculate the climate emissions resulting from the plastic that is burnt, using emissions factors from an academic study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment in 2019. 

Tearfund campaign-

  • Last year Tearfund released the No Time to Waste report, backed by Sir David Attenborough, which found between 400,000 and one million people are dying each year in developing countries from illness and disease caused by mismanaged plastic and other waste. 
  • Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign is challenging each company to sign up to the following actions on plastic waste: 
    1. Report by the end of 2020 the number and volume of single-use plastic products they use and sell in each country.
    2. Reduce this amount of single-use plastic products by half by 2025 and instead use refillable and reusable containers.
    3. Recycle single-use plastics in developing countries, ensuring that by 2022 one is collected for every one sold.
    4. Restore dignity by working in partnership with waste pickers to create safe jobs. 
  • More than 50,000 actions have so far been taken by supporters in this campaign calling on these companies to adopt new sustainable packaging methods and pledging to cut down their own plastic use. 

About Tearfund

Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters’ Emergency Committee.

Tearfund has been working around the world for more than 50 years responding to disasters and helping lift communities out of poverty.

For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org