Apr 24, 2024 - Science

Coca-Cola is largest known contributor of branded plastic waste, global study finds

Illustration of a plastic bag with "NO THANK YOU" printed multiple times on it alongside a health plus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Fifty-six brands led by The Coca-Cola Company are responsible for more than half of the plastic pollution found across the globe, according to a new study.

Why it matters: About 400 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year, which often ends up in landfills where most types don't decompose, biodegrade or compost.

What they found: There was a strong linear relationship between companies' annual production of plastic and their branded plastic pollution, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

  • Food and beverage companies were disproportionately large polluters.

By the numbers: The top five brands globally were The Coca-Cola Company (11%), PepsiCo (5%), Nestlé (3%), Danone (3%), and Altria (2%), accounting for 24% of the total branded plastic researchers tallied.

  • Half of items were unbranded, which researchers said calls for mandated producer reporting.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for The Coca-Cola Company said in an email that through its World Without Waste strategy, the company aims to make 100% of its packaging recyclable globally by 2025.

  • The company also aims to use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030.
  • "We know more must be done and we can't achieve our goals alone," the spokesperson said.

The bottom line: "Phasing out single-use and short-lived plastic products by the largest polluters would greatly reduce global plastic pollution," the researchers said.

Zoom out: Negotiations are currently underway in Canada for a global treaty that would fight plastic pollution, including reducing production of the material.

Methodology: The study used data from 84 countries from 2018–2022 to identify the brands of plastic items found in the environment through 1,576 audit events.

Go deeper: Handful of producers churn out 80% of post-Paris emissions

Go deeper