Billions of dumped Coca-Cola bottles are driving global climate crisis - Tearfund

Tumani Mwende, 35, a shopkeeper in Dar Es Salaam(Photo: Tearfund/Daniel Msirikale)

Coca-Cola and other big brands are fuelling the global climate crisis by failing to take responsibility for the large amount of plastic packaging in their products that ends up either dumped or burnt, Tearfund has said.

In a scathing new report, "The Burning Question", the Christian charity said that Coca-Cola, NestlĂ©, PepsiCo and Unilever were responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution being dumped or burnt across just six countries - Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, India, China and the Philippines. 

Of these brands, Coca-Cola was responsible for the largest share, with 200,000 tonnes of plastic pollution a year - equivalent to around 8 billion bottles - across these countries, followed by PepsiCo, with 137,000 tonnes. 

Tearfund's Rubbish Campaign is urging the four countries to urgently switch to sustainable and reusable alternatives to single-use plastic. 

The report revealed strong support for this, with nine in ten adults surveyed in India saying they would be likely to buy such containers if this would significantly reduce cost and the amount of plastic pollution in their community.

Dr Ruth Valerio, director of global advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, said plastic waste needed to be factored into these brands' climate change commitments.

"These companies are selling plastic in the full knowledge that it will be burnt or dumped in developing countries: scarring landscapes, contributing to climate change and harming the health of the world's poorest people," she said. 

"At present, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments.

"These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems."

In developing countries, where proper waste disposal facilities are lacking, rubbish is instead burnt. Seen here a mountain of plastic waste being burnt in Tanzania.(Photo: Tearfund/Daniel Msirikale)

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said that they "recognise that we have a responsibility to help solve the situation to reduce plastic waste".

A PepsiCo spokesperson said: "Changing the way society makes, uses, and disposes of packaging is important and requires pulling a lot of levers.

"At PepsiCo, we want to help build a system where packaging never becomes waste.

"That's why we're working to reduce the amount of plastics we use and have set a target to, by 2025, decrease virgin plastic content across our beverage business by 35%."

Nestle said it was "determined to look at every option to solve the complex challenges of packaging waste".

"We embrace multiple solutions that can have an impact now for our consumers and communities," it said. 

A Unilever spokesperson said: "We believe plastic has its place in delivering products safely and efficiently to consumers around the world. But the place for plastic is not in the environment.

"Our plastic is our responsibility and that's why we are taking radical action at all points in the plastic loop."