One Change: We must redouble the fight for a plastic-free future

Large companies should publicly declare how much single-use plastic they use each year, and then set clear targets for reducing this

A few months ago I wrote about a recycling programme that Nestlé runs in conjunction with Terracycle to take back plastic confectionery packaging from their own products (Kitkat, Fruit Pastilles, Smarties, etc). And while the scheme was only available at 17 recycling centre locations in Ireland, it was still a move in the right direction.

So I was disappointed to learn that Nestlé was among the top plastic polluters of 2020, according to research by Break Free From Plastic.

This umbrella organisation representing 2,000 different NGOs co-ordinated 14,734 volunteers in 55 countries to collect waste and record the brands they found. Nestlé was the third largest global polluter in its 2020 survey after Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. All three companies have maintained these top positions for the last three years, with no noticeable reduction.

The organisation defines “largest global polluter” as the companies that are found by the volunteers to be polluting the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste.

What needs to be done is straightforward: large companies must start publicly declaring how much single-use plastic they use each year, and then set clear, measurable targets for reducing this.

They must also reinvent their product-delivery systems to move beyond single-use plastic altogether. Some form of standardised reusable packaging is required that shops will readily accept back for refills.

As the highest profile producers of waste Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have a moral duty to be trailblazers in this. When you’re out in nature next and see their products don’t just blame the litter bug – consider the company.

Nestlé has responded to the report, saying that it is “intensifying our actions to make 100 per cent of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, and to reduce our use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period. So far 87 per cent of our total packaging and 66 per cent of our plastic packaging is recyclable or reusable. Our ambition is to create a circular economy in which we eliminate waste and reuse the resources we already have.”

Whether these are just platitudes remains to be seen. How recyclable will their packaging actually be? And does reusable refer to a bag with a resealable top or is it actually something that a shop will take back and refill?

We need to hold them responsible, while also not losing sight of the ultimate polluters, the oil companies who produce the raw ingredients for the plastics.

As the world turns to renewable energy the petrochemical industry is scrambling to find more uses for its oil. This year alone they plan to increase hydrocarbon use in plastics by 3per cent.

Our ability to avoid plastics has been compromised somewhat as we rely on deliveries during the lockdowns, but as soon as freedom returns we must redouble the fight for a plastic-free future.

You can see the full Break Free From Plastic report at breakfreefromplastic.org