These Are The 'Dirty Brands' Responsible For Polluting The UK With Packaging

Surfers Against Sewage have named and shamed the biggest culprits.
Recognise this?
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us via Getty Images
Recognise this?

If you pay attention to the litter you see strewn across the UK, you’re likely to see the same products again and again.

That’s because over 70% of the branded packaging pollution found across across the country is generated by just 12 companies, according to the UK ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.

And the three worst offender – Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and McDonalds – are responsible for a huge 39% of all branded pollution found.

To collect the data, the charity enlisted almost 4,000 ‘citizen science volunteers’ to collect litter over 13,000 miles over the past 12 months. The team found 10,843 branded items in total, linked to 264 companies.

For the third year in a row, Coca-Cola has taken the top spot. This follows the company’s recent announcement of a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25% of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.

But the charity warns that pollution continues to “flood into the ocean, fuelling ecological harm and jeopardising the health of people and wildlife”.

“Year after year, our Citizen Science Brand Audit reveals the same huge companies are responsible for the packaging pollution choking our environment,” Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said. “Despite public sustainability commitments, these dirty brands are failing to take meaningful action to stop this harm.

“We cannot stand for this blatant greenwashing any longer. Systemic change is urgently needed to end the pollution swamping the land and ocean.”

To highlight the rampant pollution blighting the environment and ocean, Surfers Against Sewage have commissioned a 100m x 400m projection of packaging waste stacked up against the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.

Surfers Against Sewage
Surfers Against Sewage
Surfers Against Sewage

What do the brands say?

HuffPost UK contacted the big three polluters to ask what they make of the study results.

McDonalds said over 90% its packaging comes from recycled or renewable sources, and can be recycled. The company highlighted that it took part in a anti-littler campaign, Keep It Clean, earlier this year. “As a business we have committed to sourcing all of our packaging from renewable and recyclable materials by 2025,” a spokesperson said. “We remain committed to finding innovative ways to tackle the issue of packaging waste and are trialling a number of initiatives to help reduce littering.”

A PepsiCo UK spokesperson said the company had supported the Great British Spring Clean for the past four years. They added that all PepsiCo packaging is labelled with messaging encouraging the “responsible disposal and, wherever possible, the recycling of packaging.”

“We are committed to reducing the plastic we use across our entire portfolio – for example, earlier this year, we announced plans to eliminate virgin fossil-based plastic in all crisp and snack bags, delivered by using 100% recycled or renewable content in all packets by 2030,” they added. “We also believe that deposit return schemes can provide a critical source of high quality, clean recyclate which is why we continue to be supportive of well-designed schemes.”

A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “We share the goal of eliminating plastic waste from the environment and acknowledge that the Coca-Cola Company has a responsibility to help solve this issue.” They pointed to the company’s World Without Waste goals, but said they were challenging themselves to do more. “Today, all of our packaging is 100% recyclable, and our aim is to get more of it back so that it can be recycled and turned into new packaging again, with all our smaller packs now being made with 100% recycled plastic.”

They added: “It’s disappointing to see any packaging being littered and that’s why we fully support the introduction of a well-designed Deposit Return Scheme, which we know from results in other countries will encourage people to recycle, rather than litter or throw away. In Great Britain, we’re continuing to work with organisations to encourage more recycling, whilst actively supporting a number of initiatives with the aim of making litter something of the past.