UK – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and PepsiCo have been named as the biggest packaging polluters in the UK by marine conservationists Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) in its latest annual audit.

The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage examined more than 30,700 individual polluting items collected by 4,000 citizen scientists alongside coastlines, canal paths, bridleways and city streets over 12 months up to 5 June 2023.

The audit found 12 companies were responsible for more than two-thirds (70%) of branded pollution that accumulated over the year.

Coca-Cola was found to be the UK’s biggest polluter for the fourth year running, and responsible for almost a fifth (17%) of branded plastic pollution.

This was despite the company having launched initiatives to reduce plastic pollution, such as the introduction of attached caps across its entire portfolio of brands in May 2022.

McDonald’s came second, accounting for 11% of polluting items identified, overtaking PepsiCo, which came third.

The three companies were responsible for 37% of all branded pollution, down two percentage points from last year’s audit.

Other top polluters include Tesco, Haribo, Nestlé, Heineken, Mars, Carlsberg and Red Bull.

Izzy Ross, a campaign manager at Surfers Against Sewage, said the results were “shocking, but sadly not surprising”.

She said: “Year on year we’re seeing the same culprits responsible for disgusting amounts of plastic pollution on our beaches and in our cities and countryside. They must be held accountable for their pollution.”

Surfers Against Sewage is calling on companies to take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products by reducing packaging and adopting circular business models.

The charity also urges the government to introduce an “all-in” deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks of all sizes and materials.

The Government currently has plans to implement a DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, excluding glass, but the implementation has been delayed until 2025. A similar scheme in Scotland has also been postponed to 2025.

Ross emphasized that DRS schemes have been effective in other countries and could greatly help reduce pollution in the UK.

Meanwhile, the fishing industry has emerged as a leading source of plastic waste this year, with fishing gear like nets, lines and ropes, making up 11% of the items overall and 16% of those found on beaches.

A significant number of vape and e-cigarette products were also identified for the first time this year, with 131 items logged by collectors.

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