RECOUP report analyzes sustainability commitments

The report indicates that few sustainability pledges from companies state how sustainability strategies will be measured.

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U.K.-based RECOUP (RECycling of Used Plastics Ltd.) has partnered with the University of Surrey, Guildford, England, to write and present a report that evaluates the extent to which businesses in the food packaging industry are responding to legal and societal drivers to change their approach to single-use plastics. 

The report, titled, “Recycle, Reuse, Renew: Food packaging pledges and promises in the fight against plastic pollution,” was written in September and was presented at the RECOUP Plastics Recycling and Resources Conference 2019. For the report, University of Surrey academics analyzed plastic-related communications from major companies, including Carlsberg Group, Nestlé, Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Iceland, Quorn, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Müller, Princes, Kraft Heinz and Waitrose between January 2018 and September.

“All 12 companies present themselves as pioneering, leading the way on tackling plastic pollution, whether it’s locally through initiatives to educate and enable recycling in local communities by PepsiCo and Aldi or internationally such as Nestlé’s partnership with Project STOP in Indonesia to prevent the leakage of plastic into the ocean,” says Dr. Noreen O’Meara from the University of Surrey’s School of Law on the report findings. “Companies are also keen to emphasize that their work is inspired by listening to their customers. Communications from Carlsberg, Quorn, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Princes explicitly publicize their relationships with organizations renowned for their strong environmental credentials. Some companies are framing their sustainability goals in complex scientific language and obtaining independent certifications endorsing packaging initiatives to validate their efforts. Yet the effect of these company initiatives on single-use plastic reduction remains unclear.”

Rosalind Malcolm, a professor at the University of Surrey’s School of Law, says the optimistic language in many of these sustainability commitments from brand owners “masks the reality that these companies have only just begun to tackle the huge challenge of reducing food packaging plastic waste and that their actions are largely driven by new legislation.” Malcolm adds that “none of the sustainability pledges of these companies outlines exactly how their strategies are going to be measured.” 

“There is growing recognition across the plastics supply and circular economy value chain that the measurement metrics need to change and there is increased dialogue in how this can be achieved,” says Steve Morgan, policy and infrastructure manager at RECOUP. “As part of a drive to circular economy systems, transparent and meaningful evidence-based measurement needs to be central and developed through sustainability policies, business models and organisational change framework to meet legislative and public demands.”

 The full report from RECOUP and the University of Surrey can be viewed online here.