Big brands like Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, KFC, MillerCoors, and Kraft Foods are wasting valuable materials through poor packaging sustainability policies – to the tune of USD 11.4 billion a year.
By selling single-use food and beverage packaging that ends up littering streets or in the oceans instead of being recycled, they are not just wasting, they are contributing to global pollution according to a new report from As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report explores the packaging practices of 47 fast food chains, beverage companies, and consumer goods and grocery companies, highlighting leaders and laggards in these sectors.
Only 50% is recycled
Not one of the companies surveyed managed to earn ‘Best Practices’ status – with all of them failing to sufficiently recover valuable materials and protect the world’s oceans.
However, some companies are wasting less than others, according to the report, with Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nestle Waters NA, New Belgium Brewing, and PepsiCo all emerging as relative leaders in their business sectors by taking proactive steps to recycle, use recycled content, or generate less waste.
But as a whole, all three business sectors continue to drag their feet, failing to take sufficient responsibility for the packaging they generate.
Only about half of consumer packaging ends up actually being recycled. Plastic packaging is the fastest growing form of packaging – but only 14% is recycled.
The report notes ‘special concern’ for the rapid growth of flexible plastic pouch packaging which is not recyclable, such as Kraft’s Capri-Sun product.
5 key actions
The report offers five key actions brands must take to drive packaging sustainability. These are:
- Measure the problem. Brands should disclose production figures. What gets measured can get managed.
- Replace rigid polystyrene take out coffee cup lids with recyclable alternatives – also phase out polystyrene foam cups. Polystyrene has production concerns and is hard to recycle.
- Some companies generate millions in revenue recycling corrugated cardboard. Fast food chains should immediately initiate ‘back-of-house’ recycling, and then move to “front-of-house.”
- Ensure black plastic containers are recycled through a technological fix, and promote market development to ensure a steady demand for collected materials.
- Brands that place new or hard-to-recycle materials on market need to fund actions to make them recyclable or work with processors to develop new, cost-effective recycling processes to ensure they are recycled.
All brands need to fund new investments in materials market development, composting and modernized collection infrastructure.