Throwing Away the Future: How Companies Still Have It Wrong on Plastic Pollution “Solutions”
September 30, 2019
We will only see real change when companies like Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, which profit from single-use models, end their expanding plastic use and invest heavily in systems that prioritize reuse.
© Wolf Wichmann / Greenpeace
A Greenpeace USA report released today, Throwing Away the Future: How Companies Still Have It Wrong on Plastic Pollution “Solutions,” warns consumers to be skeptical of the so-called solutions announced by multinational corporations to tackle the plastic pollution crisis. These false solutions, such as switching to paper or ‘bioplastics’ or embracing chemical recycling, are failing to move us away from single-use packaging and divert attention away from beneficial systems that prioritize refill and reuse.
“Despite the increasing scientific understanding of the irreversible damage plastic can cause to our environment and communities, plastic production is projected to dramatically increase in the coming years,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Research Specialist Ivy Schlegel, who authored the report. “Multinational consumer goods companies continue to promote so-called sustainable alternatives that would put unacceptable pressures on natural resources such as forests and agricultural land, which have already been overexploited. To solve the plastic pollution crisis, companies need to rethink how products are delivered to consumers and invest significantly in reusable and refillable delivery systems.”
Many of the world’s largest global consumer goods companies, including Nestlé, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble, have signaled their intent to make plastic packaging more recyclable, reusable, compostable, or from recycled content. Meanwhile, they are aiming to continue, and even increase, the manufacturing of products wrapped in single-use plastic or disposable packaging made from other materials.
The report finds that companies are investing in risky emerging chemical conversion “recycling” technologies, which offer false hope and lock in demand for plastic packaging. Companies have obscured the true impacts of packaging behind confusing marketing terms, sustainability language, and industry alliances, hoping that consumers will continue to believe the false promise that plastic can be improved. These misleading claims that a product is compostable, biodegradable, or made from plants, does not mean that product is good for the environment or will reduce plastic pollution.
“Due to public concern about the plastic pollution crisis worldwide, we are witnessing a parade of corporations scrambling to look greener by putting forward false solutions to justify their addiction to single-use packaging,” said Greenpeace USA Global Project Leader Graham Forbes. “Moving to bioplastic, paper, 100% ‘recyclable’ packaging, incineration and chemical recycling all but guarantee this environmental crisis will get worse. And consumers need to be wary of groups with flashy names like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste—comprised of oil companies, plastics producers, and multinational corporations— which have emerged to help maintain the world’s dependence on plastic. We will only see real change when companies like Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, which profit from single-use models, end their expanding plastic use and invest heavily in systems that prioritize reuse.”
By the end of 2019, globally, plastic production and burning will emit the carbon equivalent of 189 coal-fired power plants. And it is estimated that by 2050, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste in natural environments. As companies recognize the threat of plastics, Greenpeace is demanding that they not simply embrace a quick fix that harms the planet elsewhere.