At a shareholder meeting on Tuesday, a proposal to Kraft Foods Group asserting that non-recyclable packaging — particularly that of Capri Sun pouches — is wasting valuable resources received the support of 29.2 percent of shares voted, according to As You Sow. The shares favoring the proposal have a market value of more than $9 billion.
According to UPSTREAM, the estimated 1.4 billion Capri Sun pouches that are landfilled or littered each year in the United States would circle the globe nearly five times. The iconic Capri Sun package is made from a foil/plastic laminate that cannot be recycled into new pouches and is rarely collected for post-consumer recovery. Only 2 percent is estimated to be collected nationwide, which means that nearly every Capri Sun pouch has been wasted or littered since they were introduced in the 1970s.
“It’s a tremendous waste to be using non-recyclable packaging when recyclable alternatives are readily available,” said Conrad MacKerron, SVP of As You Sow. “Shareholders are concerned that the company is using packaging essentially designed to be dumped in a landfill.”
Though lightweight pouches have some environmental benefits, such as material and energy reduction, they are simply not designed for reuse. Pouches and other flexible packaging don’t follow industry sustainability standards around design for recycling or composting. These single-use products have to be constantly manufactured from scratch, requiring the extraction of virgin natural resources. They’re also taking a toll on the oceans: Food and beverage containers such as Capri Sun pouches are among the top 5 items found on beaches and coastlines.
According to As You Sow, Capri Sun could be dispensed in recyclable PET plastic or glass bottles, paper cartons, or aluminum cans. Honest Kids juice drinks, a Capri Sun competitor, recently announced that due to the environmental concerns with plastic pouches, it is switching to recyclable aseptic cartons.
The proposal asked Kraft Foods — the food and beverage giant that recently became a goliath, thanks to its merger with Heinz — to assess the environmental and operational risks associated with continued use of non-recyclable packaging and to develop a timeline for phasing it out.
Last year, following a 25 percent vote on the same proposal at Procter & Gamble, the consumer goods company agreed to make 90 percent of its packaging recyclable by 2020.
“If P&G can do it, why not Kraft? We hope the company will recognize the risk to its brand posed by throwaway packaging and act to develop recyclable alternatives,” said MacKerron.
This action is part of As You Sow’s Consumer Packaging initiative aimed at getting companies to reduce and manage the waste generated by their products. This year, As You Sow filed similar proposals at Mondelez International and Kroger.
Kraft is also facing pressure on its Capri Sun waste from UPSTREAM’s Make It, Take It campaign. On April 29, a coalition of national and state public interest groups launched a second push to pressure KRAFT foods to take responsibility for the impacts of its packaging waste.
“If companies like KRAFT are going to use pouches and other flexible packaging, then they need to get serious about recycling and ensure they don’t end up as trash,” said Matt Prindiville, Associate Director for UPSTREAM and coordinator of the Make It, Take It Campaign. “We need KRAFT to work with their supply chain and the recycling industry to keep these materials out of the garbage, out of our oceans and instead put them back into service in our economy.”
According to UPSTREAM, Americans generate more waste per person than any other country in the world. Packaging comprises 30 percent of the U.S. solid waste stream, greater than any other category, and less than half is recycled. Packaging materials are made from natural resources – trees, minerals, natural gas and oil — and require tremendous amounts of energy to produce from virgin feedstock. U.S. recycling rates have never exceeded 34 percent, while other industrialized countries recycle twice that percentage.
“What we do with flexible packaging is at the center of a core debate around who defines the future of sustainability,” said Prindiville. “It comes down to whether or not you believe that sustainable business practices should lead to the development of a circular economy, so that all of our stuff eventually goes to feed the creation of technical products such as computers or to goes to feed bacteria as compost for farms or the creation of bio-based products. Right now, flexible packaging ends up as garbage and does neither.”
According to the Flexible Packaging Association, about 80 billion single-material and multi-layer pouches are used every year in the U.S. About half of them are multi-layer pouches, like Capri Suns, and are composed of multiple laminated materials, usually different polymers and coatings. Pouches are the growth packaging material for food, beverages and household products such as detergents. Pouches for non-food applications — such as consumer goods — are expected to grow even more rapidly that the food and beverage sector; 6.5 percent as opposed to 4 percent.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition states that sustainable packaging should be “effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles.” Additionally, the Circular Economy 100, a global partnership including corporations such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Apple, H&M, HP, IKEA and Phillips, has backed the movement, stating: “A circular economy is one that is restorative by design… which distinguishes between and separates technical and biological materials… and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.”
So far 2015 has been a record-breaking year as far as sustainability shareholder proposals and stakeholders have been making a concerted push to clean up major brand supply chains.