Last week, shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow (AYS), along with shareholders representing $11.8 billion worth of shares, presented a proposal to Mondelez International asking that the company make the switch to recyclable packaging.
The resolution, which received 28.4 percent shareholder support, was presented at the giant food manufacturer’s annual meeting.
The world’s largest snack food company, Mondelez International produces brands such as Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Trident gum, and Philadelphia cream cheese. It comprises the global snack and food brands of the former Kraft Foods, from which it split in 2012.
Many Mondelez products are still packaged in thin, unrecyclable plastic film, when they could easily be sold in cardboard packaging. Of particular concern is the impact of unrecyclable packaging on oceans and marine environments. Plastic packaging that reaches the ocean can break down into small indigestible particles that birds and marine mammals mistake for food. “The most common microplastic that we find are thin plastic films,” Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Institute, told As You Sow.
“Shareholders should be concerned that the company is selling packaging that is designed to be dumped in a landfill,” said AYS SVP Conrad MacKerron. “Using unrecyclable packaging when alternatives are available leads to increased use of virgin materials and wastes enormous amounts of valuable resources that could be reused many times over.”
The proposal, the first of its kind to go to a vote, asked the company to assess the environmental and operational risks associated with continuing to use unrecyclable packaging and to develop a timeline for phasing it out.
Following engagement with AYS, consumer goods giant Colgate-Palmolive recently agreed to phase out most of its unrecyclable packaging by 2020.
“As demonstrated by Colgate’s recent announcement that they are transitioning to 100% recyclable packaging for three of four product divisions by 2020, companies can work with investors to create better packaging and improve their environmental impact,” added MacKerron. “This vote shows that a significant number of investors recognize the risk to Mondelez’s brand posed by its throwaway packaging, and want the company to act to develop recyclable alternatives. If Colgate can do it, why not Mondelez?”
Another concern is the growing trend of companies using pouches made of aluminum foil/plastic laminate to package cookies, juices and other foods and snacks, which cannot be recycled into new pouches and is rarely collected for any kind of post-consumer recovery. Mondelez sells many products in these pouches, including bite-size Mini Oreos and Mini Chips Ahoy! cookies.
“We commend As You Sow for making companies aware of scientific studies showing that discarded packaging is creating huge problems in the world’s oceans,” said Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist, Natural Resources Defense Council. “Plastic packaging is a prime component of marine litter, which global authorities have documented kills and injures marine life and poses a potential threat to human health. Recent research indicates discarded plastics collect toxins and transfer them into the marine food web and potentially to human diets.”
In April, a coalition of organizations devoted to waste and recycling, plastic pollution and resource conservation launched the Make It, Take It Campaign, a collaborative effort to pressure consumer goods companies to take responsibility for packaging waste. Coordinated by UPSTREAM and backed by organizations including 5 Gyres, Clean Water Action, Green America and the National Resources Defense Council, the campaign also announced its first target: the ubiquitous Capri Sun juice pouch, a highly visible example of consumer packaging that can’t be readily reused, recycled or composted.