Food and drinks majors Nestlé, PepsiCo, Danone and The Coca-Cola Co. are among the top businesses responsible for plastic pollution globally, according to a new report.

The study identified 28,570 brand names found on plastic waste in areas including beaches, rivers and parks in 84 countries.

It claimed a strong correlation between companies with high levels of production and pollution, with food and beverage groups “being disproportionately large polluters”.

Coca-Cola’s products made up the largest percentage of branded plastic waste found in the report’s 1,576 inspections of different environments at 11%.

PepsiCo goods followed suit, making up 5% of the plastic goods identified, while Nestlé and Danone’s products each made up 3%.

Earlier this month, a Nestlé water plant in France was searched by police inspectors regarding allegations of illegal dumping of plastic bottle residue. Last November, PepsiCo was sued by New York State Attorney General Letitia James over the effect its plastic packaging is having on the environment in the local Buffalo region.

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Just under 60 multinationals were responsible for over 50% of the branded plastic pollution, the study said.

Other food and beverage groups listed include manufacturers Bakhresa Group, Unilever, Wings, Mayora Indah, Mondelez International, Mars and Indofood owner Salim Group.

Explaining the rationale behind the results, the researchers said “food and beverage products tend to have shorter time periods of use before disposal, including a higher percent of single-use (inclusive of short-lived) items” compared to other FMCG companies such as household or retail.

“Food and beverage products also have a higher likelihood of being consumed on-the-go,” the report added.

More than half of the plastic items discovered in the investigations were also unbranded, making it likely that “the contributions of the top companies may be an underestimation”, given the producer of those plastic products are harder to trace.

Such findings, the researchers stressed show the need for company reporting on plastic production, “whether voluntary or mandated by governments or an international legally binding instrument”.

The researchers have called for the development “of an international, open-access database into which companies are obliged to quantitatively track and report their products, packaging, brands, and releases to the environment”.

Responding to the study, a Nestlé spokesperson told Just Food: “Plastic pollution is a serious issue and one that we are working hard to help address”, adding that it has cut its use of virgin plastic 14.9% since 2019.  

PepsiCo also told the publication that it has “made significant investments for more than a decade aiming to reduce the packaging we use, scale reusable models, and partner to further develop collection and recycling systems.”

They added: “Progress is ongoing, however, building a stronger circular economy is complex and requires collaboration.”

In a statement, a Danone spokesperson also said: “We continue to support and push for improved collection and recycling infrastructures to help consumers recycle.”

It added that between 2018-2023, the company cut its plastic usage by 8% and has made 84% of its packaging “recyclable, reusable or compostable”.

Just Food has also approached The Coca-Cola Co. for comment.