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Study reveals nearly 60 companies to be responsible for half of world's plastic pollution: 'The industry likes to put the responsibility on the individual'

"This shows very, very, very well the need for transparency and traceability."

"This shows very, very, very well the need for transparency and traceability."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study has highlighted the considerable role that major brands are playing in a plastic-polluted world after researchers traced the bulk of the waste to nearly 60 companies.

What's happening?

Analysis published in the journal Science Advances revealed that 56 companies caused more than 50% of global plastic waste in 84 countries over a five-year span from 2018 to 2022. 

The rest of the plastic had no discernable branding, raising potential questions about company reporting practices. 

"This shows very, very, very well the need for transparency and traceability," Stockholm Resilience Centre plastic pollution researcher Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, one of the study's authors, told The Guardian.

The study notes that five brands accounted for 24% of branded waste, with 11% of that total being connected back to the Coca-Cola Company. PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, and Altria rounded out the top five.  

"The industry likes to put the responsibility on the individual," 5 Gyres Institute plastic pollution expert Marcus Eriksen, a study author, told The Guardian. "But we'd like to point out that it's the brands, it's their choice for the kinds of packaging and for embracing this throwaway model of delivering their goods. That's what's causing the greatest abundance of trash."

Why is this important?

The majority of plastics are made from dirty fuels such as oil and gasoline, so the production of the material contributes to unhealthy air quality and the dangerous overheating of our planet. 

As the non-biodegradable plastics break down over tens to hundreds of years, they cause further harm by turning into hazards for wildlife and polluting the environment with toxins as they break into tiny particles known as microplastics

Scientists are still investigating the effects of microplastics on human health, but they don't appear to be doing us any favors. 

One recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine linked the particles to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack in people with heart disease, while another made available by the National Library of Medicine suggested that microplastics may be behind the rise of colon cancer cases in people under 50 and called for more research into the matter. 

What is being done about this?

Luis Vayas Valdivieso, the Ecuadorian ambassador to the United Kingdom, highlighted the need for a plastic treaty, which is expected to be agreed upon by the end of 2024

"The world is in a triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. But while there are agreements in place for the first two, we have no legislation, no global agreement on plastic pollution," he told The Guardian. 

Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Danone responded to The Guardian's request for comment and stated their various commitments to reducing plastic waste from their products.

While plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely, Coca-Cola said that it plans to make 100% of its packaging recyclable by 2025 as well as have its packaging contain at least half recyclable material by the end of the decade. 

Nestlé said that it has reduced virgin plastic in packaging by nearly 15% over the past five years, while Danone said it eliminated 62,000 tons of plastic from its packaging and increased the amount of recyclable material it uses.

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