Big brands are disproportionately responsible for plastic pollution on smaller islands, study finds

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A new study has found that 72% of the products that wash up on the shores of small, remote, protected islands are made by big brands Danone and Coca-Cola, causing untold pollution in the area.

A report by academics Royal Holloway and ZSL found that 99.9% of the products came from outside the region, with more than 2,000 plastic bottles and lids from major brands and other brands on the protected archipelago, creating a wasteland for wildlife. Research is Published In the magazine Marine Pollution Bulletin.

As global discussions to tackle plastic pollution take place, the team behind the study is calling for international policies to ensure that producers of plastic washing up on remote shores take responsibility for cleaning up their products.

A team led by ZSL and Royal Holloway used data on bottles and lids washed up on beaches in the Chacos archipelago in the Indian Ocean to conduct the first investigation into the origins of plastic pollution on islands. Where did the items come from and who made them?

Most of the products were identified as being made by major food and beverage brands in Indonesia, China and the Maldives, with 44% of products coming from Danone and another 28% from The Coca-Cola Company—highlighting how to deal with plastic. Pollution from a few key players can have a big positive impact.

In addition to identifying where the products were produced, the team estimated that 10% of washed-up products came from ships passing through the archipelago – highlighting the need for strong enforcement of responsible disposal by waste users. Water.

The Chacos Archipelago is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, providing a home to more than 300 species of corals and 800 fish. Although only one of the 55 islands is currently inhabited, the area is heavily polluted with plastic waste.

Limited access to waste management and the high costs associated with routine clean-up make these remote islands particularly vulnerable to plastic accumulation, and harm to marine wildlife. For example, litter on nesting beaches can prevent turtles from laying eggs, or seabirds can become entangled in plastic bags or nets.

The study’s identification of external sources of plastic pollution is key to informing actions to tackle this global problem—including the United Nations’ ongoing negotiations for a global plastic agreement.

With negotiations due to conclude in December, the agreement aims to address plastic pollution from production to disposal. The study highlights the impact that external sources and major brands can have on an important protected area, and underscores the need for an agreement that includes both improved innovation in plastic products and expanded producer responsibility: a policy that makes producers responsible for their products throughout their entire life cycle. This will ensure that the burden of cleanup does not fall on small island nations, which are disproportionately affected by pollution.

The work serves as a reminder of the need to reduce the use of single-use plastics such as beverage bottles. By designing products to be reusable, it is easier for the public to choose the most appropriate options and take action in their daily lives to tackle this issue affecting people and wildlife worldwide.

Jessica Savage, lead author of the study and a dual researcher at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Royal Holloway, said: „Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that a small number of multinational food and drink companies are responsible for the majority of plastic waste washing up. On the far side, the Global Plastics Agreement supports extended producer responsibility, and The brands highlighted in this study are engaging in plastic reduction solutions.

More information:
J. Savage et al., Big brands affect small islands: sources of plastic pollution in a remote and protected archipelago, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2024) DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2024.116476

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