Four of the world’s largest plastic packaging producers, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé are responsible for burning plastic in developing countries producing significant air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
According to a report published by the international development and relief agency Tearfund, these four companies sell billions of products in single-use packaging in developing countries, despite knowing that waste isn’t properly managed in these contexts and so the packaging becomes pollution.
Across the six countries of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines, the four companies create enough plastic pollution to cover 83 football pitches every single day.
Because the waste cannot be recycled or disposed of properly, it is often incinerated, which causes significant air pollution, contributes to climate change, and creates more demand for waste.
According to the authors of the report, the burning of Coca-Cola’s plastic waste alone creates emissions equivalent to 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Burning plastic waste is a serious health concern because the smoke from the fire creates black carbon.
When black carbon is emitted, there also tends to be other particulate matter emissions, which can have a significant impact on health, causing respiratory problems, heart disease and brain cancer.
The report contains an extract from Royda Joseph, aged 32, who lives nearby Kimyamwezi rubbish dump in Nigeria with her children.
According to Royda, the rubbish dump is on fire every two days, and when it is on fire the smoke can be so dark you cannot see the person in front of you. Because of the smoke, Royda has breathing problems.
She also states that the children in this area suffer from breathing problems that are so bad they often have to go to the hospital.
The authors of the report state that if these companies really want to honour their claims to be concerned about global health and climate change, then rather than focusing on recycling, the companies need to dramatically reduce the proportion of single-use packaging, and instead switch to reusable and refillable packaging instead.
Tearfund has called on the four firms to report the number of units of single-use plastic products they use and sell by the end of the year, before reducing that amount by 50% by 2025.
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