Shareholder activist group As You Sow Foundation is taking dead aim at packaging waste by filing shareholder resolutions asking Procter & Gamble Co. and General Mills Inc. to adopt Extended Producer Responsibility programs and fund recycling plans.
We believe it's time for companies to manage the full life cycle of packaging as efficiently as they manage design and marketing of products, said Conrad MacKerron, senior director for corporate responsibility at As You Sow.
We're burning and landfilling 40 million tons of recyclable packaging materials estimated to be worth $15 billion to $23 billion every year, MacKerron said in a statement April 28. We can no longer afford to discard packaging containing valuable resources. As shareholders, we see this as throwing away revenue and we need to stop it immediately.
The EPR resolutions ask the firms to collect and recyle plastic, glass, metal and paper packaging in their U.S. operations.
Taking responsibility for environmental externalities is a core goal of As You Sow's Corporate Social Responsibility Program and EPR is a key step toward an industrial system of sustainable production and consumption, said MacKerron. EPR commitments can provide a triple benefit of more efficient and sustainable use of materials, reduced pollution emissions and a stronger product-stewardship profile for stakeholders.
The resolutions by As You Sow ask General Mills and P&G to:
* Acknowledge responsibility for post-consumer packaging collection and recycling.
* Report to shareholders on the costs and benefits of EPR mandates they are subject to in other countries, including more-sustainable package design, more-efficient use of materials and reduction of air and water pollution.
* Work with stakeholders to determine what actions the company can take to independently promote EPR packaging plans.
* Actively engage stakeholders in the public-policy debate on the best way to implement EPR for packaging legislation in the U.S.
* Integrate EPR concepts into corporate and public-policy initiatives that are financed and managed by producers, subject to aggressive government recycling goals, and not aimed at repealing container-deposit laws.
They further ask the companies to take the lead in public-policy debates under way in several states on how to manage and finance EPR programs.
EPR has already proven a success in Canada and in the European Union on a broad range of products and for electronics recycling in the U.S., with 23 states adopting laws making producers responsible for collection and recycling, said MacKerron.
The shareholder proposals were co-filed by Green Century Equity Fund and Walden Asset Management. Trillium Asset Management was a co-filer on the P&G proposal on behalf of New England Biolabs Foundation, and Nelson Capital Management is involved in discussions with General Mills.
As You Sow was a force in the shareholder effort to get Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Néstle Waters North America to take responsibility for more than 50 percent of their U.S. product packaging.
For decades companies have passed the costs of onerous environmental externalities onto U.S. taxpayers, said Tim Smith, senior vice president of Walden Asset Management. We're asking P&G and General Mills to constructively engage with stakeholders to identify how [the] successful EPR laws in Europe and Canada can be best applied to the U.S.
In 2007 the average packaging recycling rate across 27 EU countries that participate in EPR programs reached 59 percent, said As You Sow. From 1998-2007, four elements of the packaging waste stream in Europe glass, metal, paper/cardboard and plastics grew at just half the rate of gross domestic product, according to the European Environmental Agency.
As You Sow also pointed to a recent analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the energy to produce, use and dispose of products and packaging accounts for 44 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.