We’re “Swimming in Plastic”

Calling out the 'Dirty Dozen' through our Brand Audit

Our communities are fighting back against the plastic tide threatening the ocean.

On Saturday 22 July, we held “Swimming in Plastic”, a community led event to mark the launch of our 2023 Brand Audit and raise awareness of the UK’s plastic pollution crisis. Built around an epic stunt that saw Penzance’s iconic Jubilee Pool filed with plastic bottles (bottles that were already headed for waste, and that were collected and cleaned by our amazing volunteers), the event showcased the evidence collected in the Brand Audit and the ways which communities, like Plastic Free Penzance, are fighting back.


The Brand Audit

The Brand Audit report is a yearly publication analysing data collected by volunteers during our Million Mile Cleans – which see communities from across the UK come together to clean up coastlines, canal paths, bridleways and city streets over a period of 12 months. This year over 4,000 volunteers took part in 499 cleans.

The Brand Audit report revealed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ companies responsible for over two thirds (70%) of branded pollution collected in the UK over a 12-month period.

  • Between 6 June 2022 and 5 June 2023, citizen scientists collected 30,745 individual polluting items, 36% (10,951) of which were branded.
  • Coca-Cola topped the list for the fourth year running, despite initiatives by the company to reduce plastic pollution – including the introduction of attached caps across its entire portfolio in May 2022.
  • McDonald’s and PepsiCo took second and third place, with the former overtaking the latter for the first time.
  • Together, the three biggest polluting brands were responsible for a staggering 37% of all branded pollution collected during the audit – down only two percentage points from last year’s figure.

The Dirty Dozen must be held accountable for their pollution and driven to do more to adopt circular business models to reduce their plastic and (by extension) their carbon footprint. These industry giants have the power to save or condemn our ocean. At the moment they’re choosing the latter.

Izzy Ross, Campaigns Manager

Read the Brand Audit report

Our demands

We are calling on the polluters to clean up their act by taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, reducing their packaging, and adopting circular business models. It is equally vital that the government introduces an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers of all sizes and materials, including glass – rather than solely small containers classified as ‘on-the-go’. DRS schemes have been shown to be highly successful in other countries, and there’s no reason to assume this wouldn’t be the case in the UK. Unfortunately, the government continues to stall on plans to implement a DRS. In doing so, it is condemning our ocean, beaches and rivers to a further 8bn extra pieces of plastic a year, as plastic gradually chokes these fragile ecosystems to death.

Learn more about our plastic pollution demands in our End Plastic Pollution report (2022)