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Watchdogs urge Nestlé, Danone and other food giants to 'deplastify'

Nine "Big Food" corporations that were served notice last year over their plastic footprint are failing to take sufficient action to tackle pollution, a new report says.

Nestlé water in a Luxembourg supermarket in 2018.

Nestlé water in a Luxembourg supermarket in 2018. Source: Shutterstock/Weho

Nestlé, Danone, and McDonalds France are among nine major food and beverage companies to come under fire after being accused of failing to do enough to reduce their use of plastic. 

A new report was published last week to mark a year since environmental organizations ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France served legal notice to nine food companies for failing to manage their plastic pollution stemming from their business models.

The new report, produced by Surfrider Europe and Zero Waste France, said there had been a shift in the industry's mindset towards plastics, with companies seemingly more aware of the risks associated with plastic pollution and recognizing the need to "deplastify." However, it warned that "concrete action is still falling far short of what is needed."

The report highlights the French "Duty of Vigilance" law which requires companies to assess and mitigate the impacts their operations could have on the environment and human rights by publishing a "vigilance plan."

According to the report, among the nine companies put on notice, which include Nestlé France, Danone, McDonalds France, Carrefour, Groupe Casino, Les Mousquetaires, Auchan and Picard, there continues to be a "distinct reliance" on single-use plastic.

Plastic pollution is showing no signs of slowing and the 9 companies we put on notice are at the frontlines of the crisis.

It also accused the companies of continuing to focus on strategies that have had a "limited impact," such as measures to boost recycling rates. It said none of the companies have published a clear "deplastification" strategy outlining how they will transition their business model away from single-use plastic.

Some companies — including Nestlé France and McDonalds France — have not even published a vigilance plan, according to the report, which also states that McDonalds France has argued that "the law does not apply to them."

ClientEarth — which provided legal expertise to Surfrider Europe and Zero Waste France — said it will continue to push the companies that it put on notice of the risk of legal action last year to take responsibility for the role they play in driving plastic pollution.   

"Plastic pollution is showing no signs of slowing and the nine companies we put on notice are at the frontlines of the crisis," said ClientEarth Plastics Lawyer Rosa Pritchard. "Our planet is inundated by plastic, and while it is refreshing to see that some companies are beginning to recognize the gravity of the risks, we need them to take real action to change their business models."

Pritchard warned that too many big food corporations appear to be relying on recycling as a solution to their plastic waste problem, which she said ultimately results in "an endless game of catch up that they will never win."

"In reality, only 9 percent of plastics ever made have been recycled, the process of recycling plastic remains fraught with problems, many of which are not realistically surmountable," she added. "We want to see these French business leaders show real ambition on tackling plastic pollution, by producing an assessment of their plastic use across the value chain, pulling together a deplastification plan and — most importantly — acting on it." 

Representatives from Nestlé, Danone and McDonalds France were contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

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