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Break Free From Plastic’s global brand audit is a citizen science initiative that involves recording data on plastic waste to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution and hold them accountable.
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Via As You Sow

BERKELEY, CA—MAY 11, 2021—After engagement with As You Sow on reducing single-use plastic packaging, Walmart Inc., the world’s largest company by revenue and largest U.S. grocery retailer, has agreed to cut its use of virgin plastic by 2025. In addition to this commitment, As You Sow has received similar promises from four other major global brands in just the last two months — Keurig DrPepper, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, and Target.

Citing urgent new data on the growing plastic pollution problem, As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with 10 leading consumer goods companies and retailers for 2021, including Walmart, calling for commitments to cut use of plastic packaging. Walmart will disclose the size of a virgin plastic reduction goal later in 2021. The company used 1.2 million metric tons of plastic packaging in its private brands sales in 2019, according to data submitted to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment initiative.

Based on As You Sow’s discussions with Walmart, the reductions will be significant and absolute cuts in plastic use, in alignment with its participation in the Global Commitment process. In recognition of the company’s commitment, As You Sow agreed to withdraw its shareholder proposal filed with the company.

“We are thrilled to have completed agreements with five leading global brands to slash use of virgin plastic in such a short time frame,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. “These are important acts of leadership by companies whose packaging contributes to the global plastic pollution crisis.” 

Two of the five companies have disclosed the size of their projected cuts. Keurig Dr Pepper will cut use of virgin plastic 20% by 2025. Mondelez committed to a 5% absolute reduction in virgin plastic, including a 25% cut in virgin plastic in its rigid plastic packaging. Research on the scope of commitments at PepsiCo, Target, and Walmart are still being finalized and will be disclosed later this year. 

As You Sow’s efforts have been catalyzed by a 2020 landmark study by Pew Charitable Trusts, Breaking the Plastic Wave, which modeled actions needed to reduce 80% of the plastic pollution that flows into oceans by 2040. The report said immediate and sustained new commitments throughout the plastics value chain are needed, including actions by brand owners, consumer goods companies, and retailers to reduce at least one-third of plastic demand through elimination, reuse, and new delivery models.

The largest cut in overall plastic use to date by a major consumer goods company was a 2019 commitment by Unilever to cut virgin plastic use by 50%, including a total elimination of 100,000 tons of plastic packaging by 2025.

“We encourage other companies to step forward and make bold, absolute cuts in plastic packaging,” said MacKerron. “Thousands of companies will need to step forward and make similar commitments to ensure significant global reductions in single use plastic packaging.”

Two shareholder proposals on cuts in plastic use are still pending and set for a shareholder vote at Amazon on May 26 and Kroger in June. 

Photo: A plastic Pepsi bottle and other plastic at Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Taylor Lane and Ben Judkins.

Lawsuit seeks to hold major food, beverage, and consumer goods companies accountable for plastic pollution

Today, Earth Island Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition, represented by Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy, filed the first major lawsuit against Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company for polluting our waterways, coasts, and oceans with millions of tons of plastic packaging. The lawsuit was filed in California State Superior Court in the County of San Mateo alleging violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence, and failure to warn of the harms caused by their plastic packaging. 

“The writing is on the wall that the system that has been created is not sustainable,” said Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “For 10 years, Plastic Pollution Coalition has worked to solve our growing plastic pollution crisis. The time is now for corporations to stop polluting our planet with single-use plastic.”

“Corporate social responsibility is a key step in addressing our plastic pollution crisis,” said Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Corporations need to urgently step up with both upstream and downstream solutions. This lawsuit is a necessary step toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.”

“This is the first of what I believe will be a wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the plastics industry accountable for the unprecedented mess in our oceans,” said Josh Floum, Earth Island Institute’s Board President.  “These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.”

Through this lawsuit, Earth Island is seeking, among other things, to recover the significant resources it expends to prevent and mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on humans, wildlife, oceans, and waterways in California, where the impacts are particularly acute. For example, an October 2019 report by the San Francisco Estuary Institute revealed that the San Francisco Bay has some of the highest levels of microplastics measured anywhere to date, and many of the particles appear to be linked to single-use plastic items. And a June 2019 study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that microplastic concentration in Monterey Bay exceeds that of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and that the primary source was plastic associated with food, beverage, and other consumer goods. The same study also found that small marine animals are consuming these microplastics, thus introducing the particles into the food web that feeds California. 

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, lead counsel for Earth Island, said “This is not just a disaster that future generations will have to deal with.  It is happening now and getting worse with each passing day. We are ingesting more and more plastic in the water we drink and the food we eat.” The complaint alleges that the average person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic on a weekly basis – roughly the equivalent of a credit card. Furthermore, as described in the complaint, plastic alters the chemical composition of the ocean when it breaks apart into smaller pieces by releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding water. Potential pollutants released through this process include bisphenol A and PS oligomer, two known hormone disruptors. Finally, plastic particles attract other toxins, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), thus becoming more toxic to humans, wildlife, and the environment over time.  

Joe Cotchett, another partner at Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, said “The trillion dollar plastic industry is polluting our oceans, rivers and bays – the Government won’t stop them, but Earth Island is willing to take them on –“

“The products that we are targeting in our lawsuit are contained in plastic packaging that is designed to be used for a short period of time, sometimes just a few minutes. And yet, this packaging pollutes our bodies from one generation to the next, and our planet for centuries,” said Earth Island’s General Counsel Sumona Majumdar. “The Coca-Cola Company and our other defendants churn out millions of tons of plastic packaging each year and want us to believe that it is all being recycled. It’s a misinformation campaign, similar to those used by Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma. Now is the time to hold Big Plastic similarly accountable.”

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute has developed and supported projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity, while also building the next generation of environmental leaders and educating the public on environmental issues. Earth Island also plays a leading role in the fight to protect our oceans, coasts, and marine life.

Earth Island has filed this case in its own right and on behalf of the following sponsored projects:

●     Plastic Pollution Coalition, found in 2009, is a growing global alliance of more than 1,000 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.

●     The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment.

●     Shark Stewards works to restore ocean health by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries. As part of this effort, it launched a marine debris prevention effort that regularly conducts cleanups and quantifies marine debris in the San Francisco Bay Area.

●     1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco in order to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles. 

A press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 27, 2020, at the Berkeley Recycling Center, 669 Gilman Street, Berkeley, CA. Please meet on Second Street, just north of Gilman Street. The Ecology Center pioneered curbside recycling in 1973 and is the longest running curbside recycler in the nation. “Companies need to take responsibility for the pollution they have created,” said Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center. “From the shoreline to the recycling sorting line, Big Plastic has contaminated our ecosystems and recycling system. Its time for them to clean up their mess.”

Filed complaint available here.

By Arlene Karidis

When United Airlines recently replaced its “Fly the Friendly Skies” banners at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, they partnered with Columbia College Chicago and Re:new to upcycle the fabric into durable travel bags, which United sells online. This program is one of many innovative ideas some airlines have devised to better manage their solid waste—and in some cases, capitalize on it.

Many initiatives follow a 2010 report by nonprofit Green America detailing how the major U.S. airlines were doing at recycling waste. At the time, Green America graded most of them with a “D” or “F” and recommended they shoot for a 2015 goal of recycling 70 percent of solid waste, generated in the air. In the same year of the bad report cards, disposal of aircraft waste cost the industry $20 to $26 million. The recyclable waste had an estimated market value of $18 million to $26 million, noted trade organization Airlines for America (A4A).

Related: A flight attendant reports on the ugly truth about airplanes and plastic pollution.

Three years later, A4A partnered with Airports Council International-North America to identify how the industry could better manage waste cost-effectively. After much research, the two organizations released industry guidelines and suggestions—from purchasing projects to facilitate recycling and reduce waste, to suggestions for collecting and sorting in flight to avoid costlier operations on the ground.

There are no figures to show if, since the release of the trade guidelines, any airlines have met Green America’s suggested 70 percent recycling goal. Several airlines have adopted system-wide in-flight recycling operations and also recycle on the ground. Some launched ‘green teams.’ Others have entered interesting partnerships to divert from landfill dumping.

In addition to initiatives like upcycling old banners, United has recycled 27.8 million pounds of aluminum cans, paper and plastic from flights and facilities. American Airlines worked with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to expand recycling in offices and break rooms and to make recycling bins more accessible to ramp workers and cleaners.

Some airlines are partnering with recyclers to “de-tax” landfills and sometimes generate revenue. They’ve paired up with solid waste managers to collect and salvage old oil, metals, and aircraft windows, and are upcycling tens of thousands of pounds of life vests, carpet and leather seat covers to lighten the landfill load. In 2014, Delta posted a fairly meaty progress report highlighting a 14 percent reduction in hazardous waste generation since 2013, system-wide. And its in-flight recycling volume increased by 6.8 percent since 2013.

On the downside, nonhazardous waste increased by 27 percent system-wide in that same timeframe. Despite Southwest Airlines’ increase in flights—recently adding international travel—it is making headway on the waste management front. Though, like some of the other airlines, Southwest still generates more tons of hazardous waste than it recycles.

While there are no comprehensive figures to reflect how the airline industry at large is doing, they are getting greener for each mile that they fly, said Green America Co-Executive Director Todd Larson. “But the issue,” he said, “is as they fly more people, their overall environmental impacts are still high and growing.”

This article has been used with permission from Waste Dive.


Photo: ldifranza / Foter.com / CC BY-SA