In its new report, non-profit organisation Break Free From Plastic reveals that leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are missing the mark with false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These companies also consistently rank as the world’s top corporate plastic polluters
Break Free From Plastic have tracked the plastic solution initiatives and pilots of seven major FMCG companies –Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Mars, Inc., Mondelez International, Nestlé, Unilever and Coca Cola Company – plus eight industry alliances they are part of, and have published these findings in a new report titled “Missing the Mark: Unveiling Corporate False Solutions to the Plastic Pollution Crisis”. Analysing 265 corporate projects from 2018 to April 2021 to determine how much attention companies are giving ‘proper’ solutions such as reuse and refill systems, the organisation found just 39 of the 265 initiatives integrated these solutions.
The rest of the projects – 226 of them – were classified as false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis as defined by the organisation’s experts. “The world’s top polluting companies claim to be tackling plastic pollution, but the evidence for how serious they are is in the numbers,” said Emma Priestland, Break Free From Plastic Corporate Campaigns Coordinator.
“These companies are pursuing false solutions that range from potentially damaging at worst, and simple wishful thinking, at best. What the findings reveal is that only 15% of the projects are proven solutions like reuse, refill, and alternative delivery systems. Instead these companies are investing in projects that do little to eliminate single-use plastics.”
In an introduction to a media webinar, the organisation notes that some of the plastic pollution initiatives funded by these companies are “incredibly worrying”; schemes such as unproven-at-scale novel technologies and plastic ‘offsetting’ schemes modeled after carbon offsetting but where the plastic is incinerated in cement kilns.
Yuyun Ismawati of environmental NGO Nexus3 Foundation in Indonesia and a member of the expert panel which analyzed the corporations’ initiatives has observed these solutions being peddled in Asia that do very little to solve the pollution problem. “Chemical recycling creates new toxic waste; plastic to fuel or Refuse Derived Fuel is contrary to the circular economy, and plastic offsetting is upsetting because it fails to answer the plastic crisis,” she said.
“These types of initiatives show a lack of ambition and prioritization of alternative product delivery methods. Multinational corporations have more than enough resources to invest in new delivery systems, reuse, refill and redesign, that would allow for a dramatic reduction in the use of single-use plastics. They should change the way of doing business and stop greenwashing.”
The report also ranked the seven FMCG companies from absolute worst to least worst and Procter & Gamble takes first place with Unilever in last position.
Global plastic pollution is far outpacing efforts to stop it. A report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reveals that plastic production is set to quadruple by 2050, with FMCG companies and single-use plastic packaging driving the upward trend. Single-use plastics account for a third of all plastics produced annually, with 98% derived from fossil fuels. Only nine percent of plastic is recycled with the rest ending up in landfills, incinerators or the natural environment.
Roughly eight million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans each year. Without action, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean could quadruple by 2040.
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Cover image by Anna Shvets.