According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 300 million tonnes of plastic garbage is manufactured each year, with five trillion mono-use plastic bags used worldwide. 

Furthermore, mono-use plastics account for one-third of discarded plastic items produced worldwide. Likewise, fossil fuels account for 98 percent of all plastic items made. 

A dual tragedy! However, only 9% of plastic made is recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills, dumpsites, aquatic bodies, or in the environment. And, over eight million tonnes of plastic items infiltrate the oceans every year.

As per research from Break Free From Plastic, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé have been ranked the globe’s top plastic waste polluters for the third consecutive year. 

The yearly assessment, which involves 15,000 volunteers worldwide, identified the most throwaway products among commodities prevalent in most countries. This year, they collected 346,494 pieces of plastic garbage, with 63 percent bearing the company’s logo.

As a result, according to worldwide brand audits in 2020, the top plastic makers and offenders to plastic pollution in the world are listed below.

Table of Contents

1. Coca-Cola

washed up empty bottle of cocacola - plastic waste
Washed up of Coca-Cola plastic bottle on the shore| Photo by Maria Mendiola

In the annual audit, Coca-Cola was named the planet’s worst plastic polluter after volunteers found its beverage bottles littering beaches, streams, parks, and other public spaces in 51 of the 55 countries studied. 

It was the most commonly disposed drink bottle in 37 of the 51 countries in 2019. Coca-Cola is expected to generate 200,000 metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste in six impoverished nations annually. 

Furthermore, activists blasted Coca-Cola for revealing that it could not abandon plastic bottles and cans because they were enticing to customers.

2. PepsiCo

boy holding plastic Pepsi bottle - plastic waste
A boy holding a plastic Pepsi bottle; probability, from hand to land| Photo by Quynh Le Manh

Year after year, PepsiCo contributes 137,000 metric tons of improperly treated plastic waste in six developing nations. 

And the garbage is either burnt or deposited in seas and streams. Every day, this quantity of plastic pollution would cover approximately 22 football fields. 

With about 59,500 metric tons of rubbish accumulated each year as a byproduct of PepsiCo, Mexico has an enormous global plastic pollution impact. 

When it concerns microplastic accumulation, Mexicans are particularly concerned about the destruction of waterways.

Notwithstanding its role in pollution, the company hasn’t ever recognized the critical need to be answerable for the plastics it produces. 

It further rejects or is uninterested in deposit-refund schemes. It also has a record of failing to follow voluntary commitments, such as a 2010 target of raising container recyclability to 50% by 2018. 

When it concerns recyclable materials, the corporation has failed miserably, accounting for only 4% of total plastic packaging – a pitiful 1% increase over 2018.

3. Nestlé

Nestle wrapper found during Greenpeace quest to find most plastic polluters - plastic waste
Nestle wrapper found during Greenpeace quest to find most plastic polluters in the world| Photo by Biel Calderon

If you have consumed KitKat, Smarties, or Aero, well, then you are promoting the plastic polluters! 

Nestlé releases 95,000 metric tons of uncontrolled plastic rubbish per day, which should be enough to cover 15 soccer fields in one day. 

With about 35,500 tonnes of plastic processed each year, the Philippines has the corporation’s most significant plastic pollution impact and, the third-largest marketplace for Nestlé in terms of market share in Brazil.

4. Unilever

Nestle and Unilever affiliated products in dumpsites - plastic waste
Nestle and Unilever affiliated plastic wastes in dumpsite of the Phillipines| Photo by Greenpeace

Unilever is frequently referred to as a quality management forerunner. But research unfolds a different story! 

According to studies, it was more aspirational in its commitments than other companies, particularly with its objective of cutting virgin plastic jars by 50% by 2025. However, they did not live up to the expectations. 

The corporation has a plastic history, and it is the planet’s fifth-worst polluter, responsible for 70,000 tonnes of plastic waste in six countries year after year. This statistic equates to more than 11 football grounds that can be filled every day.

However, the company’s usage of non-recyclable plastic packets, which account for 19 percent of its products in developing and under-developed countries, is a recurring concern. 

Although its ambitious objectives, the corporation has been unable to meet its commitments.

5. Mondelēz International 

two Oreo biscuits plastic-wrapped - plastic waste
Oreo wrappers, probably ending up as plastic waste after being eaten| Photo by Yogendra Singh

Mondelez International is one of the world’s leading confectionery manufacturers, with brands like Belvita, Oreo, Ritz, TUC, Toblerone, Cadbury, Green & Black’s, and Trident. 

Despite being ranked as the fourth-worst plastic polluter in 2019, it has not formally acknowledged its plastic effect, unlike most other companies.

Despite being one of the worst plastic perpetrators, Mondelez International’s measures to reduce plastic pollution are small and far less realistic. 

They don’t publicize current recyclable packaging statistics, prioritize recyclability, and only have a 5% recycled material. 

Chemical recycling is considered to meet recyclable packaging criteria in some receptacles, an ecologically problematic practice.

6. P&G

Head and shoulder shampoo as marine waste
Head and shoulder shampoo bottle art using plastic bottles of P&G| Image by Packaging Europe

P&G’s best-known brands are Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Gillette, Venus, Always, Tampax, Ariel, and Pampers. 

Although it does not publicly disclose its plastic pollution, research recently revealed 714,000 tons per year.

P&G has made no guarantees about plastic pickup and cleanup, nor has it made any regulatory requests or expressed support for deposit refund procedures. 

Even its commitment to 100 percent sustainable packaging is pegged for 2030, five years later than most other companies.

And, we are all well aware that it has a legacy of moving the goalposts on its benchmarks and failing to acknowledge pledges made while documenting much elevated ‘achievements’ for particular brands, such as Fairy.

7. Mars

Bars of mars on 7/11 stores
Mars bars at 7/11 store; from shops to shores| Photo by Abir Hiranandani

Mars is a confectionery and gourmet food corporation with a global presence. It was recognized as the planet’s sixth-worst plastic polluter in the Break Free From Plastic 2019, with a yearly plastic footprint of 184,000 tonnes

Now it has hit the top seventh ranking! In the battle against plastic waste, Mars has made several commitments. 

For instance, by 2025, they expect their cartons to have 30% recycled material. Not sure if they can or will keep up with their pledge!

Although this is a more respectable and demanding aim than others, they recently stated that none of their packaging contains recycled material. 

And what’s worse is they appear to be relying on chemical recycling to reach the targets, which is a troublesome and immature method. 

Mars has a history of failing to reach committed environmental targets, including a 2007 vow to recycle all packaging by 2015.

8. Philip Morris International 

a plastic packet of Marlboro cigarette packet
Marlboro cigarette packet; most seen cigarette plastic waste in dumpster| Photo by Brendan Stephen

Cigarettes are the most polluting products on the earth, and the lethal microplastic contaminates the oceans in large quantities. 

Even with biodegradable filtration attachments, butt-flicking is not appropriate, as per Philip Morris International, the earth’s most outstanding cigarette business.

Despite making such ethical remarks and a few more vows to be environmentally friendly, the corporation has failed to meet customer demand. Thus, it is no surprise they are among the world’s top ten plastic polluters!

9. Colgate Palmolive 

Colgate active white plastic case
Colgate active white would not be whiter as trash| Photo by Atikah Akhtar

Colgate-Palmolive is a vital producer of household goods, food, sanitary products, and medicinal and industrial supplies. In 2019, it was the world’s eighth-largest plastic contributor to pollution and Africa’s second-largest. 

According to analysis, the company’s promises to decrease plastic pollution are inadequate. They want to use 25% recycled content in their packages by 2025. 

Although it appears that their primary focus is to lighten a few things in a few regions alongside toothpaste tube advancements, the efforts have not been enough.

10. Perfetti

a submerged mentos bottle
A mentos mini jar submerged in water for photography; could be a reality for many rivers and oceans| Photo by Lucas Santos

Chupa Chups, Fruitella, and Mentos are all trademarks of Perfetti, a confection and bubble gum firm. It is the tenth greatest polluter of plastic on the globe. 

The company has not published its plastic footprints yet, and the enterprise has undertaken zero steps to reduce its garbage output. 

According to the law, the company was among the worst, with no mention of recovering plastic containers, no plans to implement reuse strategies, zero comment on appropriate recyclable materials norms, and other confusing and non-specific broad claims backed up by insufficient evidence. 

Despite being identified as one of the planet’s largest plastic polluters in brand audits for the past couple of years, Perfetti van Melle appears to be evading taking the blame for the matter.

To Wrap Up

As per a 2017 estimate, up to 91 percent of all plastic waste created was never reused or recycled. Instead, plastics were constantly being burned, disposed of in landfills, or released into the natural environment. 

Single-use sachets, used for advertising tiny portions of commodities like sauce, coffee, shampoos, etc., were found to be among the most widespread trash in this year’s international audit of branded plastic debris, trailed by cigarette butts, and lastly, plastic containers.

Different consumers are already experiencing the severity of the turmoil. And plastic bottles are being replaced with recyclable glassware and metallic bottles, plastic straws are being phased out, superfluous baggage in grocery stores is being avoided, and we are doing our best to clean up our coastlines

But there is very little we can achieve if businesses do not follow the movement and offer more environmentally friendly options. 

We all have a purpose of fulfilling our responsibilities in the battle against plastic pollution. Various shoppers are already feeling the effects of the upheaval.

Water and beverage bottles are being thrown out in favor of recyclable glass containers and metal bottles, plastic straws are being pulled out, unnecessary packaging in supermarkets is being eliminated, and we are taking the responsibility to clear up the beaches. 

However, we might not accomplish much if companies refuse to join the cause and promote more ecologically friendly solutions.

As a result, we must make a notable shift to correct this blunder, starting with how things are made and ending with how we dispose of the remaining products. 

Corporations must also play an active part in the resolution. If we work collaboratively, we can be the civilization that can stop plastic trash generation on the planet.

(Last Updated on January 20, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!