Talking Trash

Plastics are problematic across their lifecycle; from extraction and refining to consumption and disposal they cause pollution on land, and oceans, threatening marine ecosystems, leading to toxic emissions and undermining human health. Despite the unprecedented attention the plastic crisis has received, most efforts to address it are focused on end-of-pipe solutions which fail to hold those truly responsible for the problem to account. This campaign highlights the critical need for plastic producers and consumer brands to collect at least 90% of the packaging they put on the market, for either reuse or effective recycling, which in turn will stimulate product redesign, better collection systems and a push towards a circular economy. Such solutions need to be enshrined in legislation, because the industry has failed to address the problem through voluntary measures.

Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic

May 2022

European supermarkets are very important actors when it comes to plastic: with a €2.4 trillion turnover, this sector has the resources to act, and public opinion polls consistently show that citizens firmly believe that retailers have a responsibility to address plastic pollution. This first-ever analysis of the role that European supermarkets play in addressing the plastic pollution crisis, shows disappointing results. It reveals that some of the biggest retail chains in Europe are only paying lip service to the problem, while behind the scenes they are trying to delay action and distract consumers and policymakers. A coalition of 20 NGOs, members of the Break Free from Plastic movement, contacted 130 retailers across 13 European countries. Only 39 retailers (30%) provided a written response to the questionnaire and many failed to reply to all the questions asked, therefore we have further investigated publicly available information of over 70 retailers, which are included in this report. The total overall average score achieved by retailers across three categories was only 13.1 points (out of 100) or 13%. Only two companies exceeded 60%: Aldi in the UK with 65.3%, and Aldi in Ireland with 61%. The other two companies above 40% were Lidl in the UK with 44.7% and Carrefour in France with 41.7%. Disappointingly, 82% of the companies did not provide even the most basic information, such as their plastic footprint. The quality of data and commitments was especially bad on reusable packaging. We also found that very few supermarkets were openly supportive of progressive government policies, such as deposit return systems or reuse targets. In fact, our investigations have revealed that they were mostly found to be lobbying against these true solutions to the plastic crisis. The report calls on supermarkets to stop perpetuating false solutions and greenwashing and invest in true solutions to the plastic crisis, such as plastic reduction, upscaling reuse and actively supporting progressive legislation.

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Hot tickets and hollow promises: solutions to the plastic crisis

Investor Briefing

September 2021

Solutions to the plastic crisis come in many forms. Our investor briefing, Hot Tickets and Hollow Promises, demonstrates how not all solutions to the plastic crisis are created equal; some are more financially and technically viable than others. A concerning level of attention is still being paid to unproven solutions, while major investment institutions lack a full understanding of the policy landscape and its implications, and how it will create risks and opportunities for solution technologies. Our breifing details both the operating context for investors and businesses in response to the plastics crisis over the next decade, as well as highlighting recommendations and case studies.

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More trash, more cash: who is really behind the plastic crisis in Spain?

March 2021

Spain is at a key decision moment on how it will address the plastics crisis. This year it is expected that the Waste Law and the Royal Containers Decree will be published through which the Spanish government intends to implement the EU waste legislation. The investigation “More Trash, More Cash: who is really behind the plastic crisis in Spain” reveals how the plastic polluters have successfully prevented any attempts to reform the Spanish waste management system for years and are now once again gearing upto derail meaningful implementation of new EU targets, adopted in the Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive through their latest fake voluntary initiative -Reciclos. The latest attempt to derail real solutions such as DRS and reuse targets is spearheaded by the producer responsibility organisation Ecoembes, which unites the biggest consumer goods companies, like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé, and Danone, and the biggest supermarkets, like Mercadona, Alcampo, Carrefour and Lidl. Reciclos is a voluntary return and reward system that the report defines as a false solution that has already been rejected in other countries. This research shows that Ecoembes is at the forefront of defending the industry’s interests due to its obsolete business model dubbed as “more trash, more cash”, as the more single-use containers are placed in the market, the higher its income. The report also features calculations from UK consultancy Eunomia Research and Consulting showing the true cost of cleaning packaging litter. Only cleaning-up packaging litter on streets and coastal areas costs Spanish municipalities and, therefore, taxpayers up to €744 million every year. And a crucial part of these costs, up to €529 million, is associated with beverage packaging, such as bottles, cans and Tetra-Paks, which could be reduced by up to 80% if the drinks were sold with a deposit

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Eunomia Annex

Talking Trash: the corporate playbook of false solutions to the plastic crisis

September 2020

This report investigates industry tactics in the face of an unprecedented plastic pollution crisis and growing public pressure to address it. Based on research and investigations in over 15 countries across five continents, it reveals how – behind the veil of nice-sounding initiatives and commitments – the industry has obstructed and undermined proven legislative solutions for decades. We have critically analysed voluntary commitments from the biggest plastic polluters (Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, Mars Incorporated, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Perfetti van Melle and Unilever), dissected the most prominent group initiatives (some of them championed by governments and NGOs) and revealed how companies across the plastic supply chain – from the oil industry to consumer brands and retailers – really act behind the scenes. Our case studies show that not only have voluntary initiatives failed to contain the plastics crisis, but also that companies have used these initiatives as a tactic to delay and derail progressive legislation – all while distracting consumers and governments with empty promises and false solutions.

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Plastic Pollution Lobby: A coalition against the introduction of a deposit return system in Austria

May 2020

Austria is currently considering the introduction of a deposit return system: a proven way to reduce plastic pollution and reach the targets for separate collection of plastic bottles set out in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. However, this report reveals that a group of powerful companies with vested interests, including major retailers Lidl, Spar, Hofer and REWE Group, has been lobbying to influence the government’s decision against a deposit system. They are orchestrating their lobbying efforts through the highly reputed Altstoff Recycling Austria AG (ARA), Austria’s largest extended producer responsibility (EPR) organisation, which currently manages around 70% of the waste market. Recent poll finding show that 83% of Austrians are in favour of DRS and 93% agree with the idea that plastic producers should contribute to managing plastic waste. For this reason Austrian government should introduce a deposit return system for all beverage containers and introduce specific measures to promote reuse, such as a specific sub-target for refillables.

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Genie in a Bottle: Unlocking the full potential of California’s bottle bill

May 2020

This briefing highlights the opportunity to update California’s bottle bill by increasing safety and convenience for Californians wanting to redeem their bottle deposits during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The system has seen redemption and recycling rates falling over the years, leading to higher emissions, more recyclable material sent to landfill, and more plastic ending up in the ocean. The system must be brought back to best-in-class level, and unlocking $400 million of unspent funds in the program could be the first step to updating the system, leading to the creation of new jobs and environmental and economic benefits. The briefing also presents the results of the public opinion poll, which showed that 74% of Californians want more action on plastic pollution and 80% want plastic producers to contribute to managing plastic litter.

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