Resource Use

‘The Dirty Dozen’: Surfers Against Sewage reveals top UK coastal and river polluters

Surfers Against Sewage has revealed that 12 companies produce 70 per cent of branded packaging found during their Million Mile Clean. Nicknamed ‘The Dirty Dozen’ by the charity, they are led by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and McDonalds.

SAS White Cliffs Dover
Thousands of volunteers joined the marine conservation charity over 12 months to retrieve packaging pollution from rivers and seas in the UK. The packaging of over 264 companies was recovered, with 28,727 branded and unbranded items retrieved overall.

Surfers Against Sewage has projected the results of their report onto the White Cliffs of Dover along with images of plastic and other packaging. The full list of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ was also projected: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonalds, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Tesco, Red Bull GmbH, Suntory, Carlsberg Group, Heineken Holding, and Mars.

Coca-Cola has taken the top spot, with its packaging waste constituting the most recovered for the third year in a row. The company recently announced a new reusable packaging target, aiming for at least 25 per cent of all beverages worldwide to be sold in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles and containers by 2030.

Surfers Against Sewage says that the Dirty Dozen are not living up to their sustainability pledges by failing to reduce packaging, switch to reuse models, and enable recycling. It is calling on companies to act now to end pollution by taking responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products, reducing their packaging and adopting circular business models.

The charity is also calling for the UK Government to introduce an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials including glass, not just small containers classified as ‘on-the-go’. Of the items monitored from this year’s Dirty Dozen, the charity estimates that 55 per cent could be captured through an ‘all-in’ DRS.

The Government is expected to implement a DRS in 2024, having first announced the plan in 2018. Surfers Against Sewage says the delay has led to 48 billion extra containers polluting the natural environment. DRS schemes are already common across Europe.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Year after year, our Citizen Science Brand Audit reveals the same huge companies are responsible for the packaging pollution choking our environment.

“Despite public sustainability commitments, these dirty brands are failing to take meaningful action to stop this harm. We cannot stand for this blatant greenwashing any longer. Systemic change is urgently needed to end the pollution swamping the land and ocean.

“Businesses need to take responsibility for their polluting products and transition to models of reduction and reuse. Legislation such as an ‘all-in’ deposit scheme needs to be introduced urgently and governments must hold these companies to account.”