Coca-Cola retains plastic polluter crown for the fourth year running in Surfers and Sewage annual Brand Audit
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) have exposed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ brands responsible for most of UK plastic pollution. In their annual Brand Audit, Coca-Cola was the UK’s biggest plastic polluter for the fourth year running, responsible for almost one-fifth (17%) of branded pollution logged by citizen scientists.
McDonald’s has overtaken PepsiCo in 2023 to secure second place, with one in 10 salvaged polluting items attributed to the brand. Together, those three biggest polluting brands were responsible for a staggering 37% of all branded pollution collected during the audit.
The new data revealed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ companies were responsible for over 70% of branded pollution collected in the UK over a 12-month period. Between 6June 2022 and 5June 2023, citizen scientists collected 30,745 individual polluting items, 36% (10,951) of which were branded.
“The results of this year’s Brand Audit are shocking, but sadly not surprising. Year on year we’re seeing the same culprits responsible for disgusting amounts of plastic pollution on our beaches, and in our cities and countryside,” said Izzy Ross, Campaigns Manager at Surfers Against Sewage.
“This Dirty Dozen of plastic polluting companies need to clean up their act. They must be held accountable for their pollution and driven to do more to adopt circular business models to reduce their plastic and (by extension) their carbon footprint. These industry giants have the power to save or condemn our ocean. At the moment they’re choosing the latter.”
The Brand Audit report is a yearly publication analysing data collected by volunteers during SAS’s Million Mile Cleans – which see communities from across the UK come together to clean up coastlines, canal paths, bridleways and city streets over a period of 12 months. This year over 4,000 volunteers took part in 499 cleans.
The report also found the fishing industry has emerged as a leading source of plastic waste in 2022/23. Fishing gear, including line, nets and ropes, made up a staggering 16% of all branded and unbranded waste found on beaches, a 5% increase on last year. Fishing rope was the third most abundant item amongst unbranded pollution after ‘miscellaneous plastic’ (where the source could not be identified) and cigarette butts.
SAS is calling on corporations to clean up their act on plastic pollution by taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, and urging the government to introduce an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials.
“A deposit return scheme is one of the most effective ways to reduce plastic pollution. DRS schemes have been shown to be highly successful in other countries, and there’s no reason to assume this wouldn’t be the case in the UK,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, the UK government continues to stall on plans to implement a DRS. In doing so, it is condemning our ocean, beaches and rivers to a further 8bn extra pieces of plastic a year, as plastic gradually chokes these fragile ecosystems to death.”