Initial Corporate Engagements
PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Unilever
Our initial activity will consist of in-depth engagement with four large consumer goods companies, two based in the U.S. and two in Europe - PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Nestle SA, and Unilever.
These are global consumer goods giants whose size and purchasing power can alter plastic packaging design and production practices more broadly. They also do significant business in developing Asian markets where deposition of plastic into waterways is highest. As discussed below, each company has taken some initial positive incremental steps to address plastic pollution, but these actions need to be supplemented with a more comprehensive plan.
We will seek to understand how the companies deal with packaging through its life cycle from design to production to post-consumer phase. We will ask management to share how it is addressing plastic pollution in terms of these core topics:
Transition plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable, or compostable to the fullest extent possible.
Disclose annual plastic packaging use.
Set plastic use reduction goals.
Develop alternatives to plastic for packaging purposes, especially for single use packaging.
Acknowledge responsibility and play a significant role in funding and facilitating collection and recycling or composting of packaging in markets where they operate (i.e. producer responsibility).
Support public policy measures on reducing plastic waste and broadening producer responsibility.
Accelerate research on the potential for technology and innovation to provide solutions.
As You Sow has been in dialogue on sustainable packaging with PepsiCo for several years, specifically in regard to a commitment made by the company to increase U.S. beverage container recycling to 50% by the end of 2018. The beverage container recycling rate lags at 36%. We await a response from the company on how to deal with the expected failure to meet the commitment.
In terms of plastic pollution, the company’s Frito Lay snack division packaging is a focus as many of its snack and chip bags are made from non-recyclable plastic packaging. One encouraging sign is a partnership with Danimer Scientific to explore bio-based compostable film resins for snack packaging.
Procter & Gamble
Crest toothpaste in a laminated tube, Tide detergent pods in flexible pouch-style packaging, and Pampers diapers are examples of Procter & Gamble products that cannot be conventionally recycled. Procter & Gamble made a commitment in 2014 to As You Sow to ensure that 90% of product packaging is recyclable – or that programs are in place to recycle it by 2020. The commitment came the day before a shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow asking the company to phase out of unrecyclable packaging was supported by 25% of shares voted, representing over $35 billion of share value. The company is involved in a partnership with PureCycle Technology the aims to restore used polypropylene plastic materials to virgin-like quality.
Nestlé has made a commitment to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or re-usable by 2025 but it is unclear how the company intends to get there.
Nestle is the world’s largest bottled water brand with $7 billion in annual sales. In 2008, Nestlé Waters North America set an industry recycling goal of 60% for U.S. PET plastic bottles by 2018. The PET bottle recycling rate still lags far behind the goal at 31%. We await a response from the company on how to deal with the expected failure to meet the commitment.
As You Sow has been in dialogue on sustainable packaging with Unilever for several years. Flexible plastic packaging has been the focus of special concern as it is non-recyclable and billions of single use sachets (pouches) are sold in Asia for Dove brand soap and shampoos. Since many Asian countries have poor or no collection and recycling, pouches end up as litter swept into rivers and oceans, and showing up prominently in brand audits of beach litter.
Here are some recent actions the company has taken on plastic pollution:
January 2017 - Commitment to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable, and use 25% recycled content plastic by 2025.
May 2017 - Launched technology to recycle sachets using solvents to dissolve polymer and allow it to be made back into same packaging material, which it calls circular economy or closed loop approach
January 2018 - Issues call for action by peers, says consumer goods industry needs to go much further, much faster, in addressing challenge of single use plastics by leading transition away from linear take-make-dispose model of consumption to one truly circular by design.
April 2018 – Announced partnership on chemical recycling with Dutch startup Ioniqa to convert PET back to virgin material.