In a study recently undertaken by Breakfree from Plastic the impact of 265 announced Fast Moving Consumer Goods Companies (FMCGs) plastics initiatives was analysed - for efficacy and actual implementation. The projects were classified as 'reuse-based alternative product delivery systems' or various categories of 'false solutions'. The FMCGs were scored and ranked on their projects to compare company initiatives, and to enable tracking on a semi-regular basis moving forward.
It is important to note that the Breakfree from Plastic study was interested in 'announce-ables' and focused on pilots and location-based projects as these, in their view, are the most under scrutinised, but attract significant media.
The study excluded projects (which are acknowledged as substaintial), that consist primarily of eliminating unnecessary plastic, as well as those that consisted of materials substitution, including bio-based and compostable plastics and plastic types that companies claim are recyclable. Eliminating unnecessary plastic is important, and many brands are doing this on a large scale by ‘light weighting’ or making plastic thinner or packaging smaller.
The work assessed projects in two categories:
Break Free From Plastic has been tracking the brands found on plastic pollution in the environment around the world since 2018 and every year the same multinational FMCG companies are found to be the biggest plastic polluters - not surprising, given their size and product mix.
Break Free From Plastic also reviewed projects by alliances and group initiatives in which the top seven polluting FMCG companies are involved.
This group was categorised into three groups, including:
There were four groups under False Solutions:
A review of the ‘solution’ projects and initiatives from the FMCG companies and alliances revealed two concerning issues:
The top seven polluting FMCG companies identified in Break Free From Plastic’s 2020 brand audit report on their plastic pollution solutions projects from 2018 through April 2021 are, starting with the number one top polluter:
Below is an infographic showing the top seven polluters and the measured percentage of each company's plastic pollution solution that does not reduce the production of plastic waste. Nearly 90% of announced solutions made no difference according to the study.
These seven companies - Procter & Gamble, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, Mars, Inc., The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé and Unilever are each in the driver’s seat on decisions that result in the plastic packaging they put on the market. These companies' business models, and those of their counterparts across the packaged goods sector, are among the root causes and drivers of plastic pollution.
COLLECTIVELY, THESE SEVEN COMPANIES GENERATE MORE THAN $370 BILLION IN REVENUE EACH YEAR. CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL IF THESE COMPANIES COLLABORATED TO DIRECT FUNDS TOWARDS REAL, PROVEN SOLUTIONS INSTEAD OF WASTING THEIR MONEY ON MARKETING CAMPAIGNS AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS.
Only 9% of plastic ever produced since the 1950s has been recycled, and only very limited types of plastic can be recycled in an economical way. Plastic production is set to quadruple by 2050, and one of the main drivers of this is fast moving consumer goods companies and single-use packaging.
“BY 2040, CURRENT GOVERNMENT AND INDUSTRY COMMITMENTS ARE LIKELY TO REDUCE ANNUAL PLASTIC LEAKAGE INTO THE OCEAN BY ONLY 7% (±1 PERCENT) RELATIVE TO BUSINESS AS USUAL. OUR RESULTS INDICATE THAT A FAR GREATER SCALE OF ACTION AT THE SYSTEM LEVEL WILL BE REQUIRED TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGE OF PLASTIC POLLUTION.”
The study did not include individual refill products that required the consumer to purchase the refills in single use plastic to fill up more durable containers. These do not represent a systems change and still rely on single use packaging, just in smaller quantities.
While beach, harbour and estuary clean ups by concerned citizens are to be applauded, including the devices to deploy them, we need solutions on mass scale - something that these 7 companies are very capable of coordinating, especially given the number of hands each of their plastic containers end up in. There's a thought.