Top plastic waste polluters still the same, says audit report
MANILA, Philippines — Multinational companies, particularly those producing fast-moving consumer goods, have had “very little” to zero progress in their efforts to reduce their plastic footprint despite their commitment to do so in the past few years, according to an international movement against plastic waste.
The top waste polluters in the latest Global Brand Audit of the Break Free from Plastic (BFFP) Movement remained the same as in previous audits. The results, advocates say, showed the lack of significant change on the part of producers in cutting down their plastic production.
Now in its third year, BFFP’s brand audits are a global effort, where plastic waste from six continents are collected and counted by volunteers. Building from the usual clean-up activities, it identifies the brands of each individual plastic waste, in a bid to shift the responsibility of managing waste from consumers to producers.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé were identified as the top plastic polluters in the 2020 audit, which was publicly released last week.
More than 14,000 volunteers from 55 countries analyzed more than 346,000 individual pieces of plastic waste.
In the Philippines, 38,580 pieces of plastic waste were collected from August to September this year.
Local analysis showed that the majority of the plastic trash were products by Universal Robina Corp., Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive.
Same top polluters
“We are not shocked that consistently, every year, the top polluters are the same companies,” Abigail Aguilar, regional coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told reporters last week.
“We have been engaging these companies for the past three to four years with the same message and calls, but the progress has been very slow,” she said.
In a recent report of Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the New Plastic Economy Global Commitment, where hundreds of businesses made voluntary commitments for better plastic use by 2025, signatories actually reduced their use of virgin plastic by only 0.1 percent from 2018 to 2019.
“Commitments to make all packaging ‘100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025’ are already insufficient because they fail to include reduction targets,” the audit report said.
Across the world, the most common product types found in plastic waste were food packaging, such as food wrappers, sachets, coffee cup lids and beverage bottles; smoking materials, such as cigarette butts; and household products, such as shampoo and laundry detergent bottles.
Collected sachets reached nearly 64,000 pieces, while more than 60,000 cigarette butts were amassed.
Since this year’s global audit was done amid the new coronavirus pandemic, volunteers also recorded 770 discarded surgical masks and 419 surgical gloves.
“In many sectors, there is a decline in consumption of many products, including plastic, but there has been an increase in plastic packaging and delivery, as well as medical waste,” said Von Hernandez, BFFP global coordinator.
Aguilar said the latest brand audit remains a call for corporations to publicly disclose the amount of single-use plastic items that they produce each year, as well as set clear, ambitious and measurable targets on how they can reduce their global plastic footprint.
The groups also called on these companies to reinvent how they package their products, exploring efforts in alternative delivery system models, such as reuse and refill stations.
Zero waste programs
In the Philippines, zero waste programs launched by environmental groups have been gaining ground in some cities and municipalities, complemented by local legislation regulating the use of single-use plastic.
Local actions, however, have been dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to increases in plastic waste, this time from home deliveries amid the lockdown.
These efforts are also done in the absence of a national policy against single-use plastics, which has languished in Congress for the last few years.
President Duterte himself has floated the potential ban, but it has not been followed up by actual legislation.
“A presidential signal is good, but we are also mindful of the confused signals from the government,” Hernandez said. “In the same breath, they are also promoting incineration, in the guise of waste-to-energy projects … These mixed signals are not helping.”
Lawmakers should also come up with legislation on “extended producer responsibility,” said Hernandez, which would put the onus of responsibility to deal with the plastic waste back to those who produced them.
Aguilar cautioned against unsustainable programs that companies might be undertaking in the guise of actual efforts to reduce their plastic footprint.
“The only solution to our problem right now is to stop plastic from being produced in the first place and not to continue as business-as-usual,” she said.
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