Brits Are Littering UK Beaches With Coffee Cups and Crisps Packets

By Shabana Arif on at

Those polar bears might want to rethink their beverage of choice after an analysis of branded items found on UK beaches carried out by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) discovered that 12 per cent of the branded litter was comprised of Coca-Cola products.

As with all studies of this type, the methodology leaves a lot to be desired, and it doesn't take a handful of volunteers grubbing around on a beach to realise that human garbage is a problem. Just last year, a pilot whale in Thailand died and was found with 17 pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. And even when we are recycling, it's not the benevolent act you may think it is; a lot of our plastic recycling is being shipped off to be burned or buried in Vietnam.

The study was carried out by volunteers last month between April 6 and 14. They were asked to record the names of the brands whose packaging was found on the beaches and submit their findings via an online form. As the study notes, "The ratio of branded to unbranded items does not necessarily provide a reflection of the true situation as it is not clear whether surveys recorded unbranded items in the same way."

There seems to have been "uncertainty among volunteers as to what constitutes a brand: some volunteers entered parent companies (e.g. Mondelez International), some entered umbrella brands (e.g. Cadburys) and some entered individual product names (e.g. Dairy Milk)."

The data did highlight which particular products of the 50 parent companies that were linked with the largest shares of the identified litter were the culprits. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were at the top of the list, but the vast majority of the product packaging found that was attributed to them were Costa Coffee and Walkers Crisps respectively.

The next biggest offenders - although, technically, it's the people who seem incapable of cleaning up after themselves that are the issue - were Mondelez International, McDonalds, and Nestle.

Unbranded items weren't the focus of the research, but the results revealed that this category of litter was mostly made up of cotton buds and cigarette butts, followed by bottle caps, sweet wrappers, and baby wipes. Last year, the government was cracking down on cotton buds and plastic straws, and was even considering banning them outright.

"People and planet need these companies to change how they do business. At the moment, the cost of this waste is left in the hands of local councils, taxpayers and the environment,” Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS told the Guardian.

Coca Cola also weighed in, with a spokesperson saying, "We don’t want to see any of our packaging end up as litter, on land or in the ocean. We are one of the few companies to publish the amount of packaging we use, globally and locally, and we are supportive of reform to the Extended Producer Responsibility [rules], including the introduction of a deposit return scheme to help us get more packaging back."