A report released by Greenpeace USA reveals how consumer goods companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé are driving the expansion of plastic production and threatening the global climate and communities around the world.
The report, The Climate Emergency Unpacked: How Consumer Goods Companies are Fueling Big Oil’s Plastic Expansion, exposes the business links between the world’s largest consumer goods and fossil fuel companies and the overall lack of transparency around emissions from plastic packaging.
“The same well-known brands that are driving the plastic pollution crisis are helping to fuel the climate crisis,” said Greenpeace project leader Graham Forbes. “Despite their best efforts to appear climate friendly, companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé are working alongside the fossil fuel industry to expand plastic production, which could lock the world into catastrophic emissions levels and a planet warmed beyond saving.”
While the plastics supply chain is largely opaque, the report identified supply chain relationships between the nine major consumer goods companies researched and at least one major fossil fuel and/or petrochemical company.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Danone, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Mars all buy packaging from manufacturers supplied with plastic resin or petrochemicals by well-known companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron Phillips, Ineos and Dow.
“The world’s top polluting companies claim to be tackling plastic pollution, but the evidence for how serious they are is in the numbers. These companies are pursuing false solutions that range from potentially damaging at worst, and simple wishful thinking, at best. What the findings reveal is that only 15% of the projects are proven solutions like reuse, refill, and alternative delivery systems. Instead, these companies are investing in projects that do little to eliminate single-use plastics.” said Emma Priestland, of the group Break Free From Plastic.
Without transparency around these relationships, consumer goods companies are largely able to avoid accountability for environmental or human rights violations committed by the companies that supply plastic for their packaging.
Consumer goods companies have also partnered with fossil fuel companies for decades to promote plastic recycling despite its failures. These industries have worked together to oppose legislation that would restrict single-use packaging and advocated for so-called “chemical or advanced recycling” projects. The fossil fuel and consumer goods industries often work through front groups that advocate for these false solutions, including the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, the Recycling Partnership, and the American Chemistry Council.
“It is clear that many consumer goods companies want to hide their cozy relationships with fossil fuel and petrochemical companies, but this report reveals the extent to which they are working toward common goals that pollute the planet and harm communities worldwide,” continued Forbes. “If these companies truly cared about the environment, they would end these alliances and move away from single-use plastics immediately.”
In a recent story aired by Channel 4 news in the UK, an Exxon lobbyist is recorded stating that “every aspect of plastics is a huge business,” noting that it is “going to grow.”
The lobbyist also calls plastics “the future” at a time when communities around the world are fighting back against single-use plastic pollution and demanding reductions in its use. He goes on to state that the strategy is to say, “you can’t ban plastics, because here’s why,” comparing this to tactics used to undermine action on climate change.
Without urgent action, plastic production could triple by 2050, according to industry estimates. This projected growth would increase global emissions from the plastic life cycle by over 50 percent on 2019 levels by 2030, equivalent to nearly 300 coal-fired power plants.
This is the same timeframe that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned human caused emissions must fall by nearly 50 percent to limit global warming to 1.5℃, the maximum temperature increase that can be sustained before irreversible catastrophic harm is done the the Earth’s ecosystem.
Greenpeace is calling on consumer goods companies to urgently move toward systems of reuse and package-free products. Companies must phase out all single-use plastics and be more transparent about their plastic footprint, including the climate footprint of their packaging.
Companies are urged to support an ambitious global plastics treaty that addresses the entire lifecycle of plastic and emphasizes reduction.