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Global companies must clean up their act: TEAR

Findings show companies must urgently switch to sustainable packaging alternatives, says Christian agency.

TEAR's latest report has highlighted the devastating impact of plastic pollution.

PHOTO: Supplied: TEAR

By Stephen Cauchi

June 4 2020Christian relief and development agency TEAR Australia has released new research showing the staggering amount of plastic waste generated by multinational brands in developing countries.

The report, released by TEAR and its global Tearfund partners in late April, found that Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever burnt or dumped half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines.

“These companies are selling plastic in the full knowledge that it will be burnt or dumped in developing countries, contributing to climate change and harm to the health of the world’s poorest,” said Jo Knight, Advocacy Director at TEAR.

“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.”

Coca-Cola was the worst of the four with 200,000 tonnes of plastic pollution – or around eight billion bottles – burnt or dumped each year in these countries each year.

PepsiCo was second worst with a plastic pollution footprint of 137,000 tonnes per year.

The report, The Burning Question, was part of the Rubbish Campaign that TEAR and Tearfund have been running since last August. 

The findings show that the companies must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets, said TEAR.

TEAR also 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 contributor to greenhouse gases.

Ms Knight told TMA the impact on climate change from burning plastic “hasn’t been calculated before. That’s new evidence”.

She said questions from TEAR were being put to executives at Coca-Cola and PepsiCo at their global annual general meetings. The meetings were being held online due to coronavirus.

“We’re particularly trying to pressure them in this AGM season,” said Ms Knight, who worships at Merri Creek Anglican.  

The Rubbish Campaign has been challenging each company with a plan to reduce plastic pollution in developing countries. This includes reducing the amount of single-use plastic products by half by 2025 by using refillable and reusable containers. It also aims to increase the recycling of single-use plastics, ensuring that by 2022 one is collected for every one sold.

TEAR has ranked how well the companies are doing in committing to this plan. This league table reveals that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo had barely improved, with Unilever far ahead.

Ms Knight said that of the four companies, Coca-Cola had the “highest plastic footprint and were doing the least [in] response”.

Last year TEAR released the No Time To Waste report, 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.

Globally, more than 50,000 actions have been taken so far in the Rubbish Campaign, including more than 3500 in Australia, by campaign supporters.

Jo Knight said the actions involved “people calling on the companies to make the full [pollution reduction] commitments. They’ve been doing it mainly online through our website.”

The supporters have also pledged to cut their own plastic use.

Ms Knight said TEAR was calling on churches to reduce their plastic use and many had done so.

Find the report, and ways you can take action, here.