Poor packaging sustainability policy in U.S. food companies leads to $11.4 billion of losses a year

The two American non-profit environmental organizations—As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council—have joined forces to analyze the current packaging practices of 47 leading fast-food, beverage and CPG companies.

Together, they’ve released a report «Waste and Opportunity 2015» stating that most companies researched during the study have not sufficiently prioritized packaging sustainability policies and must significantly improve the volume of packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, as well as recycled content.

The major findings from the study are, as follows:

1. Every year, the U.S. companies waste valuable raw materials to make packaging to the tune of about $11.4 billion. To improve the situation, companies must revise their practices across four main domains:

  • Material use
  • Source reduction
  • Recycled content
  • Materials recycling.

2. None of the companies surveyed earned a «Best practicces» bage. Nevertheless, Starbucks, McDonald’s, New Belgium Brewing, Nestle Waters NA, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo  found to be relative leaders, as they encourage customers to recycle, collect trash for recycling, use recycled content in their packaging, and overall, generate less waste.

The best performers in the fast-food sector are Starbucks and McDonald’s, while New Belgium Brewing, Nestle Waters NA, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are leaders in the beverage sector, and Unilever—in the CPG/grocery sector.

3. Only about half of all consumer packaging is recycled in the U.S., with only 34.5% of municipal waste being recycled. While plastic packaging is acknowledged to be fastest growing form of packaging and the major contributor to ocean pollution, only 14% is recycled in the U.S. To compare, paper and cardboard packaging is recycled at 76.1%, steel—72.2%, aluminum—38%, glass—34.1%.

4. The major source of plastic packaging trash in the U.S. is the fast-food industry. It accounts for 49%of all street litter.

“We found that most leading U.S. 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,” said Conrad MacKerron, SVP of As You Sow and author of the report. “These companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies. Increased attention to these key attributes of packaging sustainability would result in more efficient utilization of post-consumer packaging, higher U.S. recycling rates, reduced ocean plastic pollution, and new green recycling jobs.”

“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 and improved support and adoption of recycling are key to turning the tide on this unnecessary waste,” said Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist and packaging report project editor, NRDC.

The report contains some critical recommendations to business executives on how to improve their sustainability practices across four pillars. See them in the infographics below.

Photo: recommendations for companies on the best sustainable packaging practices, "Waste and Opportunities 2015" report
Photo: recommendations for companies on the best sustainable packaging practices, «Waste and Opportunities 2015» report