These Brands Produce the Majority of Beach Litter

Coca Cola and PepsiCo. are among the brands found littering British beaches, say Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) after a new national survey. SAS released the report on May 9, based on data collected by volunteers between April 6-14, 2019 as part of the Big Spring Beach Clean event.

The event comprised 229 beach cleans and, in total, collected nearly 50,000 pieces of waste on British beaches.

The datasets did have some limitations. The ratio of branded to unbranded litter was 20,045 to 29,368. However, the report carefully notes that it was impossible to ensure that volunteers all recorded unbranded litter in the same way.

What constituted unbranded litter was not necessarily uniform across the various collections, so some crews may have had a different idea of what “unbranded” meant. This means that it is not necessarily true to suggest that unbranded litter is a larger problem than branded litter. There were also problems with pickers understanding what constitutes a brand—for example was it the on-face label or the parent company brand?

Those minor issues to one side, the branded litter the volunteers collected and processed during the beach clean-ups was illuminating.

The litter came from 799 separate brands. Among the top brands in the beach waste were names like Coca-Cola, Walkers crisps, McDonald’s and Nestlé, to name just a few of the top offenders. The data does something interesting here, though. Rather than just stopping with the brands themselves, the analysis then traces back the parent companies of the brands to give us a truer picture of their share of the total beach waste problem. To illustrate this, Buxton Water is a recognizable brand in the UK, but its parent company is Nestlé. By examining parent companies rather than just on-face brands, SAS was able to dig down to corporate responsibility.

Fifty parent companies were responsible for 92 percent of the branded items SAS found, while 10 parent of companies produced over half the number of items. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were responsible for just over a quarter of all the branded items that SAS recorded in this survey.

In terms of the types of litter, a lot had to do with food and beverages—which isn’t surprising. Coca-Cola bottles and cans made up nearly 12 percent of all the litter from the beach clean up.  However, tobacco companies and brands like Unilever—which offer cleaning supplies, cosmetics and other items—also featured in that top 50.

Among the unbranded items, there weren’t many surprises, either: cotton buds and baby wipes featured heavily, while cigarette butts were also prevalent.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage, puts this problem in perspective, saying, “Our survey clearly shows that big business is responsible for the scourge of plastic and packaging pollution. Just ten companies were responsible for over half of the packaging pollution recorded. Unsurprisingly, the high street brands had headline appearances with Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and McDonald’s all gracing the top ten. These companies must invest more in the redesign of packaging, alternative ways of product delivery and ramping up packaging re-use to truly turn the tide on the plastic pollution that is sweeping our world.”

Coca-Cola has responded to this report. “We don’t want to see any of our packaging end up as litter – on land or in the ocean,” a spokesperson told the Independent. “We are one of the few companies to publish the amount of packaging we use. Globally we have committed to collecting and recycling a bottle or can for every single one we sell, as part of our global #WorldWithoutWaste initiative. In Britain, all our bottles and cans are already 100 per cent recyclable and our goal is to use the power of our brand to drive people to recycle more and calling for reform of the UK producer responsibility system.”

Meanwhile, PepsiCo said that it was also concerned about the volume of litter its brand is producing and that it is committed to publishing its packaging totals later this year with the aim of further improving on its environmental commitments and finding ways to reduce that plastic packaging.

The UK is currently wrestling with how to cut plastic pollution in its natural environment, and this report has been added to that data. Clearly, though, we need to take immediate action to stem the flow of plastics into our oceans and wider habitats.

Take Action!

We need to put the pressure on brands to take even tougher action on packaging waste. Join almost 200,000 Care2 members demanding that Coca-Cola do more to end its plastic waste problem by signing and sharing this petition.

And if, like Austin Dean and Michael Eisele, you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo credit: Getty Images.


Lara A
Lara A23 days ago


Emma L
Past Member 27 days ago

thank you for posting

heather g
heather g29 days ago

Fortunately Canada hasn't got many proper beaches - the locals make up for this by littering the streets and throwing tons of garbage into the many lakes.

Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson29 days ago


Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley29 days ago

Thank you.

Michael F
Michael Fabout a month ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

David S
David Sabout a month ago

We should not be blaming the companies for putting litter on the beaches, it is the careless people who drop a can, cup etc. instead of carrying it back to a garbage container.

Barbara S
Barbara Sabout a month ago

thank you

Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

Ron Loynes
Ron Loynesabout a month ago

Just an idea. What if the major brands useda % of their profits to pay for returned product trash. Aluminum cans are worth say 23 cents per pound. But what if they said we'll pay 10 cents per can? They put up a limit of say $2000000 by a certain area, for this difference. It won't pay for all the trash but it will make a huge dent on easily accessible (visible) trash. Quick, easy and a good way to see how much trash we can eliminate, especially on a local level. Then go on from there. FFT Food for thought.