In a new report just published by Break Free From Plastic, Unilever is named as one of the top five global plastic polluters of the last 5 years, alongside Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Nestlé, and Mondelēz (owners of Cadbury’s, Oreo, Ritz and many other popular snack brands).

Since 2018, brand audits have used data gathered by more than 200,000 volunteers across six continents who collected more than two million pieces of plastic. A reliable picture of the corporate culprits is built up from analysing where each piece had originated.

Coca-Cola, which is trying to greenwash itself by being a COP27 sponsor, has topped the chart as the world’s worst polluter in all 5 years, and results show it’s actually been getting worse despite its attempts, along with Unilever, to deflect blame and avoid regulation.

To mark the 5-year results, yesterday was named Trashiversary day, and activists in more than a dozen countries targeted Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Unilever, mailing or delivering their own waste back to them at offices round the world.

In London a small group tried to deliver a box to the Unilever corporate HQ, full of Unilever’s own plastic sachets which had been collected as waste in Indonesia. They even brought along a Trashiversary cake and poster. Unfortunately, they were told the company would not take them, very symbolic of its global attitude. According to Break Free, last year only 0.1% of Unilever’s packaging was reusable, and the company produced nearly 750,000 metric tons of new plastic.

Five years of citizen-science brand audits have clearly shown that companies’ own voluntary codes are simply not working or are being ignored. A commitment to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025 is not showing signs of emerging as the amount of plastic packaging used by many of these companies is actually increasing. So more robust regulation is urgently needed.

In March this year the UN Environment Assembly endorsed a resolution (End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument) which tasks an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to arrive at a Global Plastics Treaty by 2024 – a legally binding international agreement covering the full life-cycle of plastics from manufacture to disposal.

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