Two of the world’s biggest soft drinks manufacturers have been named as the worst offenders for plastic litter blighting beaches and rivers around the country.
Analysis of the rubbish found during clean-up operations around the country showed Coca Cola and PepsiCo were between them responsible for a quarter of all plastic pollution.
The findings were revealed in a report prepared for ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.
Surveys showed the vast majority of all branded waste found strewn across the coastline is made by just a few parent companies, with just 10 firms accounting for more than half of all trash items.
During 229 clean-ups carried out in April, a total of 49,413 pieces of rubbish were picked up.
Of these, 20,045 were branded.
Coca Cola produced the largest proportion of branded items – 15.5 per cent – while PepsiCo made 10.3 per cent.
Completing the top five polluting parent firms were Mondelez International, which owns Cadbury, contributing 6.8 per cent, followed by McDonalds at 6 per cent and Nestle at 5.5 per cent.
Campaigners are calling for manufacturers to take urgent action to tackle the problem of plastic pollution.
“Our survey of packaging pollution on beaches and rivers clearly shows that big business is responsible for the scourge of plastic and packaging pollution,” said Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage.
“Just ten companies were responsible for over half of the packaging pollution recorded.
“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.
“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, finally, the environment.”
The research has been submitted to the UK government as evidence in a current consultation on plastic packaging, which aims to make producers take full responsibility for the waste they create.
Plastic is not biodegradable and persists in the environment for centuries, posing a major threat to wildlife.
Estimates suggest around 12 million tonnes of plastic waste – such as fishing gear, bottles, bags, cotton buds and microbeads – end up in oceans around the world each year.
It causes the deaths of around 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and one million sea birds annually.