Greenpeace, The Women’s Institute and The Muslim Council of Britain join a global coalition to demand the five top plastic polluters switch to reusable packaging for World Refill Day

A coalition of over 400 global organisations, including Greenpeace, The Women’s Institute and The Muslim Council of Britain have joined forces on World Refill Day to demand that the five companies named as the biggest plastic polluters commit to tackling plastic pollution through ‘transparent, ambitious and accountable reuse and refill systems’ in an open letter.

The letter coordinated by environmental not-for-profit City to Sea, calls on the 5 biggest plastic polluters; Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble to tackle their plastic pollution impact by switching from single-use to affordable and accessible refillable and reusable packaging. In the open letter, signatures have called on the CEOs of these corporations to address the environmental, social and health impacts that their plastic use is having on communities disproportionally from the Global South.

The letter comes a day after school children from across the UK lobbied their MPs in Parliament to take more action on plastic waste as part of The Big Plastic Count Youth Empowerment Day. All the students had taken part in The Big Plastic Count, a citizen science project in May this year by Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic. The count saw over 100,000 households collect, catalogue and submit data on a week’s worth of plastic waste, helping to build evidence to support action.

Exclusive polling for World Refill Day by City to Sea found that 91% of Brits are taking steps to reduce their single-use plastic, with 41% saying they would like to do more. Crucially the findings echo the core demands of the open letter with 64% saying they do not think that big brands are doing enough to address plastic pollution and a comparable 65% saying they don’t think supermarkets or brands are doing enough to provide affordable refillable or packaging-free options to customers.

Natalie Fée, the CEO and Founder of City to Sea, the campaigning organisation behind World Refill Day, commented,  

“It’s great to see over 400 organisations join our call and this movement of global partners on World Refill Day to demand change. Our polling shows clearly that Brits want to shop with less plastic and they clearly think big brands need to be doing more. All across Britain families are struggling to balance wanting to make sustainable choices with trying to get make ends meet. And while we do what we can, like signposting people to free drinking water through our Refill app, we need business and government to take the lead here. Refillable packaging is the solution to plastic pollution, but we need to make sure this is delivered at pace in a way that is affordable and accessible for all.”

Signatories of the open letter have stated that for the companies to move their reputations from “big pollution” to “big solution” they need to urgently:

  • REVEAL the full extent of their plastic footprint if they do not already do so. This is a core part of accountability and essential if corporations are to reduce their plastic footprint.  Reporting should be per single-use plastic item, as well as by weight.
  • REDUCE the amount of plastic they use by setting ambitious, transparent targets, and supporting action plans on how to achieve them. Then, prioritise achieving those targets.
  • REINVENT their packaging to make it suitable for refill and reuse in a way that is accessible and affordable to all. To do this, they should commit to collaborating with other companies to standardise reusable packaging and build shared reuse systems and infrastructure. 

In the face of climate catastrophe, the signatory organisations highlight that plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in a single year, while plastic production is expected to rise by 40% over the next decade, driven in large part by single-use plastic packaging. Crucially, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble all buy packaging from manufacturers supplied with plastic resin or petrochemicals by well-known companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron Phillips, Ineos, and Dow.

Coca-Cola has been named the biggest plastic polluter for four years in a row. In 2019 Coca-cola admitted to pumping out an estimated 200,000 single-use bottles every minute. This figure is likely to have grown in the years since. This means that they’re responsible for one-fifth of the entire world’s PET production. #breakfreefromplastic’s Brand Audit found more Coca-Cola-branded waste than the next two top polluters combined — as has been the case each year since 2019. Despite announcing ambitious reuse targets, there has been no evidence so far that this has resulted in a decrease in plastic pollution caused by their products.

Natalie Fée, added,

“Washing up on our beaches, floating in our rivers and littering our parks all over the world are the same plastic products produced by the same big multinational companies. This World Refill Day is an opportunity for these big brands, like Coca-Cola, to go from a business model of “big pollution” to “big solution”. By making reuse and refillable packaging affordable and accessible, multinationals like Coca-Cola or the other big polluting companies like PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, and Proctor and Gamble, can play a big role in tackling plastic pollution. We know that most people want big brands to do more, so this World Refill Day we’re making sure brands like Coca-Cola are listening.”

Maja Darlington, Plastics Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said, 

“When people became concerned about plastic waste, the plastic industry said ‘recycle to fix the problem’, and we did. We’ve been doing our bit – collecting our plastic waste, washing it, sorting it, bagging it, but industry hasn’t been doing theirs. We’re exposing, through The Big Plastic Count and this open letter to the big polluters, that we can’t simply recycle our way out of the plastic crisis – it’s a false solution that isn’t working, and it isn’t ever going to work on its own. It’s time for industry & government to act. They need to produce a lot less plastic, stop wasting the plastic they do make, and stop dumping our waste on other countries. The way to make this happen is to design reusable and refillable packaging that works for everyone.”

Zara Mohammed, Secretary General for the Muslim Council of Britain commented,

“We are all custodians of earth and the ecosystem within it. Reducing wastefulness and caring for our planet’s precious resources is important to all of our faith communities. As consumers, we each have a responsibility to ensure we put our values into practice and co-ordinate action at grassroots community level, with many communities having redoubled efforts since COP26 last year. But producers, businesses and entrepreneurs must also step-up and drive forward innovation and change towards the more sustainable economy that we all wish to see for our present and future.”

Nicky Amos, Chair of the Public Affairs Committee at the National Federation of Women’s Institutes said:

“WI members are already taking big steps in their own lives to cut their use of single-use plastic, raising awareness of the problem with others and as volunteers are spending countless hours clearing plastic litter from their local communities.

“Yet much more action is needed if we are to end the tidal wave of plastic that is spoiling our green spaces, polluting our rivers and oceans and threatening wildlife. We need concerted action from the biggest plastic polluters if we are to tackle this problem. We want to see industry and government working together to take urgent and ambitious action to cut plastic use through setting targets for plastic reduction and reporting on progress, as well as developing innovative new packaging to avoid plastic use in the first place.”

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