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Tearfund contributes to Panorama documentary revealing the impact of Coca-Cola’s plastic waste

25 Oct 2021

  • Tearfund works in more than 50 of the world’s poorest countries, and every day, our partners witness the effects of plastic being burnt in backyards, on street corners and in open dumps.
  • Burning plastic creates toxic fumes that affect the health of people living nearby, and it affects the entire globe, by driving the climate crisis.
  • In The Philippines we estimate that around 1 billion Coca-Cola bottles are burnt or dumped each year.  Nearly enough to fill an olympic sized swimming pool every day.
  • Coca-Cola are more dependent on single-use plastic than many of their competitors. Per dollar of sales they use almost three times as much plastic as PepsiCo and 7 times as much as Unilever.

Tearfund has participated in a Panorama documentary on Coca-Cola to raise awareness of how plastic waste affects those already struggling to escape poverty, and to show how the burning of plastic contributes to the climate crisis.

The scale of Coca-Cola’s plastic pollution is astonishing. Tearfund estimates that in the Philippines around 1 billion Coca-Cola bottles are burnt or dumped each year.  That’s nearly enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every day.

In countries such as Uganda, almost all of Coca Cola’s packaging is now made from single use plastic, a major change from the more sustainable refillable bottles that were the mainstay of their distribution system there in the early 2000s.

Senior Associate for Economics and Policy, Rich Gower, said “The dumping and burning of plastic and other waste leads to death and disease, causing as many as one million deaths around the world every year - one person every 30 seconds.”

“Burning of plastic waste is also driving the climate crisis, particularly through production of black carbon, a powerful climate pollutant that heats the globe around 2,000 times more than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.”

“Coca-Cola are the biggest plastic polluter globally. They desperately need to reduce their use of throwaway plastic.”

In many countries, one of the groups doing the most to address plastic pollution is the informal waste sector. Waste pickers collect plastic door to door, from the street, or from dumpsites. Globally, they collect almost 60% of all the plastic that’s recycled.

The big plastic polluters owe waste pickers a great deal.  Waste pickers are collecting their waste, which would otherwise be burnt or dumped - this saves lives and reduces costs for business. In return, these companies need to respect waste pickers’ rights and help ensure they are paid enough to provide for their families.

Tearfund is calling on Coca-Cola and other large companies to:

  • Report on the amount of single-use plastic they sell in each country;
  • Reduce this amount by half by 2025;
  • Recycle, ensuring one single-use plastic item is collected for every one they sell;
  • Restore – partner with waste pickers to provide fair and dignified work.


Notes to Editors

For further information or interview requests contact Sam Perriman: +44 (0)7783 770487 [email protected]. For out of hours media enquiries please call +44 (0)7929 339813

Statistics explained

The statistic regarding dumping and burning of Coca-Cola’s plastic in The Philippines is an update to that released in our 2020 report ‘The Burning Question’ which includes calculations for the Philippines and five other middle income countries, for Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever.  To calculate it we use data published by the companies themselves, by the World Bank, and from academic studies to work out each companies’ plastic footprint, and to estimate how much is being burnt in each country. Our approach has been peer reviewed by three leading experts in the field.

The figure related to deaths caused by dumping and burning of plastic and other waste is taken from our report ‘No Time To Waste’.

About Tearfund

Tearfund is a Christian charity that partners with churches in more than 50 of the world’s poorest countries. We tackle poverty through sustainable development, responding to disasters and challenging injustice. We believe an end to extreme poverty is possible. Tearfund is also a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit

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