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The Burning Question: Report

In association with: Renew Our World
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Publications & Reports

Will these companies reduce their plastic use? A Rubbish Campaign report by Tearfund and Renew Our World.

Plastic pollution scars landscapes, fills our oceans and harms the health of the world’s poorest people.

Nevertheless, global plastic production is still increasing,1 and is set to double over the next ten to 15 years.2

The steps being taken by companies and governments are a far cry from the action necessary to tackle a crisis of this magnitude.

This report focuses on the actions and responsibilities of four of the world’s biggest plastic polluters: Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever.

Download the report

View the executive summary

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Most of the companies focus on recycling, rather than reduction, as a way to address the problem. This is a mistake for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s questionable whether it is actually possible to recycle such a large and ever-increasing volume of plastic.

Only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling annually and, even in developed countries, recycling capacity often falls far short of total plastic use.

This report estimates that across six countries spanning three continents – China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution every year:

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Burning of plastic pollution creates climate emissions

The plastic crisis is contributing to the climate crisis

Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever all claim to be concerned about global health and climate change. However, in order to honour these climate and health ambitions, companies need to reduce dramatically the production and selling of single-use plastic packaging, and switch to refillable and reusable packaging.

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  1. Senet S (2019) ‘Plastic production on the rise worldwide but slowing in Europe’, Journal de l'environnement, 5 Jun 2019,

  2. UNEP (2018) Single-use plastics: a roadmap for sustainability,

  3. In order to stop plastic pollution, we need actions far beyond just the four companies we focus on here. In No time to waste (Tearfund, 2019), we highlighted the wider actions we believe governments and citizens need to take. These include investing in waste management and limiting the worst forms of single-use plastic. Yet, as we lay out in this report, there is an irrefutable moral case for the world’s largest companies to act and lead now to reduce dramatically their plastic footprint.

The use of brand or corporate names may be subject to third party trademarks or copyright and TEAR makes no claim of ownership of such marks.