plastic bales recycling
Shareholder activist group As You Sow says too few consumer products companies have committed to genuinely increase plastic recycling rates.
Photo by Brian Taylor.

Shareholder activists exert pressure on plastic

As You Sow files requests for 10 companies to commit to using less plastic.

January 15, 2021

Berkeley, California-based nonprofit group As You Sow says it has filed shareholder proposals with 10 consumer products companies and retailers “calling for commitments to absolute cuts in use of plastic packaging.”

The shareholder proposals were filed with, Keurig Dr Pepper Inc., KraftHeinz Co., Kroger Co., McDonalds Corp., Mondelez International Inc., PepsiCo, Restaurant Brands International, Target Corp. and Walmart Inc.

As You Sow cites a study by Pew Charitable Trusts that contends that “without immediate and sustained new commitments throughout the plastics value chain, the annual flow of plastic into oceans could nearly triple in the next 20 years.”

As You Sow also says its previous emphasis on improved recycling and the focus of some of its earlier work with companies “is not sufficient to stem the plastic tide and must be coupled with reduction in demand, materials redesign and substitution.”

“The Pew report called on brand owners, consumer goods companies and retailers to commit to combat plastic pollution by reducing at least one-third of plastic demand through elimination, reuse and new delivery models,” says Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow.

“This year, our efforts will focus on educating corporate management and shareholders about these urgent new findings and engaging management to immediately begin the process of transitioning to less use of plastic for packaging.”

The proposals ask each company to estimate how much of its plastic packaging leaks into the environment, describe strategies or goals to reduce use of plastic packaging and evaluate opportunities for dramatic reductions in plastics used for packaging.

As You Sow cites Unilever as the only major consumer goods company that “has agreed to significant quantitative cuts in plastic use.” Unilever has committed to cut plastic packaging use by 100,000 tons by 2025, a 14 percent reduction in plastic use over a 2019 baseline, according to the group.

Most of the companies selected for engagement via shareholder resolutions received what As You Sow calls “poor scores” on its “Waste & Opportunity 2020: Searching for Corporate Leadership” report.