17th May 2019

Just ten firms responsible for half of UK beach litter

Get the latest news

Only ten companies are responsible for the products that account for more than half of the litter on UK beaches – with Coca Cola and PepsiCo named the worst offenders.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), the ocean conservation charity, unveiled the figures which have been submitted to government as campaigners call for transparency from the UK’s ‘biggest polluters’.

It follows the UK’s largest ever nationwide survey of packaging pollution found on Britain’s beaches and rivers, conducted by more than 45,000 volunteers during SAS’s recent Big Spring Beach Clean series.

The analysis showed the top five parent companies tended to be made up of a small number of major polluting brands including Walkers, Cadbury, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Nestle, Pepsi and Costa Coffee.

During the 229 cleans in April, 49,413 pieces of pollution were picked up, of which 20,045 were branded, with Coca Cola producing the largest proportion of branded items.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage said: “Our survey clearly shows that big business is responsible for the scourge of plastic and packaging pollution.

“Just ten companies were responsible for over half of the packaging pollution recorded. Unsurprisingly, the high street brands had headline appearances with Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and McDonald’s all gracing the top ten.

“These companies must invest more in the redesign of packaging, alternative ways of product delivery and ramping up packaging re-use to truly turn the tide on the plastic pollution that is sweeping our world.”

The research has been sent to the UK government as evidence in the current consultation on plastic packaging and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). It aims to make the parent companies take more responsibility for the costs of dealing with discarded packaging.

Under present EPR guidelines, producers ‘that handle over 50 tonnes of packaging annually and have an annual turnover over £2 million’ should be accountable for the cost and system for dealing with the packaging they create and sell.

However, they do not currently share information on the packaging they produce, and SAS claim the businesses pay less than 10 per cent of the costs of dealing with it.

Each company in the top 50 polluters list – responsible for 91.6 per cent of the branded items – has an annual turnover far greater than the £2 million threshold.

Now, SAS says it is critical that new EPR regulations ensure transparency in the amount of all producers packaging in order to fully hold the to account for the pollution they create.

Mr Tagholm added: “Producers must offer full transparency and disclosure on the amount and type of packaging they use in order that new extended producer regulation can be truly effective. Our environment is in peril and plastic pollution is a clear indicator that business as usual just won’t do.

“This is not a littering issue – business needs to provide radical and responsible new systems that drastically reduce their impact on our oceans, forests and nature at large.

“People and planet need these companies to change how they do business. At the moment, the cost of this waste is left in the hands of local councils, taxpayers and, finally, the environment.”

The analysis of the information collected was undertaken by independent environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting.

It discovered while the top 50 companies are predominantly food and beverage manufacturers, several tobacco companies and companies with a wider brand portfolio – such as Unilever – also fall within the top 50.

The Acre Foundation is the charitable branch of Acre. Over the last 12 months, we have been focusing our fundraising efforts towards Plastic Oceans UK, raising more than £5,000 – join us in creating a wave of change.