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Survey finds that 60 firms are responsible for half of world’s plastic pollution

Study confirms Altria, Philip Morris International, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are worst offenders

Fewer than 60 multinationals are responsible for more than half of the world’s plastic pollution, with six responsible for a quarter of that, based on the findings of a piece of research published on Wednesday.

The researchers concluded that for every percentage increase in plastic produced, there was an equivalent increase in plastic pollution in the environment.

“Production really is pollution,” says one of the study’s authors, Lisa Erdle, director of science at the non-profit The 5 Gyres Institute.

An international team of volunteers collected and surveyed more than 1,870,000 items of plastic waste across 84 countries over five years: the bulk of the rubbish collected was single-use packaging for food, beverage, and tobacco products.

Less than half of that plastic litter had discernible branding that could be traced back to the company that produced the packaging; the rest could not be accounted for or taken responsibility for.

“This shows very, very, very well the need for transparency and traceability,” says a study author, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a plastic pollution researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “[We need] to know who is producing what, so they can take responsibility, right?”

The branded half of the plastic was the responsibility of just 56 fast-moving consumer goods multinational companies, and a quarter of that was from just six companies.

The two tobacco companies Altria and Philip Morris International combined made up 2% of the branded plastic litter found, both Danone and Nestlé each produced 3% of it, PepsiCo was responsible for 5% of the discarded packaging, and 11% of branded plastic waste could be traced to the Coca-Cola company.

“The industry likes to put the responsibility on the individual,” says the study’s author, Marcus Eriksen, a plastic pollution expert from The 5 Gyres Institute.

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