For the third year in the row, big brands Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé have been accused of “zero progress” on reducing plastic waste, after being named the world’s top plastic polluters. American brand Coca-Cola was ranked the world’s number one plastic polluter by Break Free From Plastic in its annual audit after its beverage bottles were the most frequently found discarded on beaches, rivers, parks and other public places in 51 of 55 nations surveyed. Last year, the brand was the most frequently littered bottle in 37 countries, out of 51 surveyed. Cold drink brand Coca Cola fared worse than PepsiCo and Nestlé combined as Coca-Cola branding was found on 13,834 pieces of plastic, while PepsiCo branding was on 5,155 and Nestlé branding was on 8,633 pieces of plastic.

The company’s branding was discovered on 13,834 pieces of plastic at 51 of the 55 sites surveyed — more than the combined total of Nestlé (8,633) and PepsiCo (5,155), which were the second and third worst polluters. The project, which is undertaken by 15,000 volunteers, collected almost 350,000 bits of plastic waste, of which 63 per cent was marked with an identifiable brand. In total more than 5,000 brands were identified in the survey.

Already, Coca-Cola has refused to abandon plastic bottles despite a growing push to see the brand move away from them. The company said the bottles were popular with customers. This comes even after the brand, alongside PepsiCo, Nestle and Unilever, were found to be responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year, in a survey by NGO Tearfund.

Over 5,000 brands were catalogued this year, but Coca-Cola quickly emerged as the world’s number one plastic polluter. Its beverage bottles were found most frequently, discarded on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 nations surveyed, The Guardian reported. The brand was worse than PepsiCo and Nestlé, the next two top offenders, combined. Plastic pollution is one of the leading environmental problems of modern-day. Plastics do not disintegrate or disappear, but instead, break up into microplastics that get consumed by the tiniest organisms. These toxins bioaccumulate and move their way up the food chain and into our air, food and water.

The 2020 global audit of branded plastic waste also revealed that single-use sachets, which are used to sell small volumes of products such as ketchup, coffee and shampoo, were the most commonly found type of item, followed by cigarette butts, then plastic bottles. National coordinator of the South African Waste Pickers Association, Simon Mbata said that the majority of plastic that the volunteers come across cannot be recycled. Such plastic products are everywhere, in the waste stream, on the land. When it is buried, it contaminates the soil. And therefore, whatever cannot be recycled must not be produced.