Trade Resources Industry Views The World's Biggest Polluters

The World's Biggest Polluters

Who are the world’s biggest polluters? A report by non-profit environmental and social responsibility organisation, As You Sow, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), examined the packaging practices of forty-seven fast food/quick service restaurant chains, beverage companies, and consumer good/grocery companies in the US, and outed the worst as well as the best.

Why? Because plastic packaging is the fastest growing form of packaging, largely due to growth in fast food and consumer beverages. 80% of the ocean’s pollution is made up of it. And because the plastic material that is wasted globally each year is worth approximately $14.8 billion.

Yes, the report was conducted in and for the US, but the findings are indicative of the situation the whole world is in. The majority of the companies it examined are global. 

The report called, Waste and Opportunity 2015: Environmental Progress and Challenges in Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Packaging, found that few companies have robust sustainable packaging policies or system-wide programs to recycle their packages. 

None of the forty-seven companies attained the report’s highest Best Practices status. Major international companies like Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, KFC, MillerCoors, and Kraft Foods were shown to be missing the mark.

The study also identified systemic issues including, a disjoint between real and claimed access to kerbside recycling (US), a technical glitch preventing vast amounts of black plastic containers commonly used in QSRs from being recycled, a large proportion of compostable packaging is not being composted, and contaminated recyclables are increasingly preventing readily recyclable materials such as plastic PET bottles from being more widely recycled.

Packaging practices in each industry sector were rated according to attributes such as types of material used, whether those materials are recyclable, compostable, and/or made of recycled content, and what the companies are actually doing to promote recycling of their packages. 

The key findings among food companies are:

Starbucks and McDonald’s were cited for Better Practices. Dunkin’ Brands, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Yum! Brands were rated Needs Improvement.  Arby’s, Quizno’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, and Papa John’s Pizza were identified as Poor for showing little to no leadership on packaging sustainability, based on information they make public. With the exception of Starbucks, none of the QSR brands analysed has aggressively sought front-of-house recycling for part or all of its packaging, system-wide. Just one small food chain, Pret A Manger, with 60 sites in the US, offers front-of-house recycling and composting at all of its locations.

The key findings among beverage companies are:

New Belgium Brewing, Coca-Cola, Nestle Waters NA, and PepsiCo were cited for Better Practices. Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Diageo, and Anheuser Busch were categorised as Needs Improvement. Heineken, MillerCoors, Boston Beer, and Red Bull were identified as Poor for showing little to no leadership on packaging sustainability, based on information they make public.

The list of consumer goods/grocery companies examined in the report includes: Campbell Soup Co., Clorox Co., Colgate-Palmolive Co., ConAgra, Dean Foods, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Group Inc., Kroger Co., Mondelez International, Nestle USA, Procter & Gamble Co., Safeway Inc.,Smithfield Foods Inc., SuperValu Inc., Target Corp., Unilever PLC, Walmart Stores Inc., and Whole Foods Market. 

The star performers:

Walmart was cited for achieving its commitment to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5%, and its goal of increasing its use of postconsumer recycled plastic in products and packaging by 3 billion pounds by 2020. Procter & Gamble has agreed to make 90% of its packaging recyclable by 2020. Colgate-Palmolive has agreed to make packaging for three of four product categories recyclable by 2020. Unilever committed to increase post-consumer recycling of its packaging 15% by 2020 in its top 14 global markets.

Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president and report author, As You Sow, stated, “We found that most leading US. fast food, beverage, and packaged goods are coming up significantly short of where they should be when it comes to the environmental aspects of packaging. These companies have not sufficiently prioritised packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies. Increased attention to these key attributes of packaging sustainability would result in more efficient utilisation of post-consumer packaging, higher U.S. recycling rates, reduced ocean plastic pollution,and new green recycling jobs.”

Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist and packaging report project editor, Natural Resources Defense Council, added, “Single-use food and beverage packaging is a prime component of the plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, which kills and injures marine life and poses a potential threat to human health. Companies have an opportunity and an obligation to curb this pollution. Better packaging design andimproved support and adoption of recycling are key to turning the tide on this unnecessary waste.”

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