Global Food and Beverage Giants Push back against EU Cap-tether Proposal

Pepsi, Coca Cola, Danone and Nestle, four of the world's biggest food MNC's and plastic polluters, thanks to their packaging, have urged EU environment ministers to hold off backing the European Commission’s cap-tether proposal. The firms are pushing instead for investments in recycling technology to combat the plastic pollution their product packaging causes.

Global beverage giants Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Danone, and Nestlé have expressed a strong interest in improving existing recycling systems rather than invest in new bottle designs with attached caps, a move being pushed by the EU to curb plastic pollution. The four companies have urged EU environment ministers to hold off backing the European Commission’s cap-tether proposal, in a leaked letter, and instead support their own plastic-waste-busting ideas.

Plastic bottle caps have been found to be the most frequently found plastic products during beach clean-ups and the Commission’s single-use plastic proposal suggests that drink containers should only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached, a change that is supposed to make te collection process simpler. 

Recently, Greenpeace came out with a report that claims that globally Coca-Cola and Pepsi are the largest contributors to plastic pollution. With the aim to get a picture of how large corporations contribute to the problem of pollution, Greenpeace worked with the ‘Break Free from Plastic’ movement, in orchestrating 239 plastic clean-ups in 42 countries around the world between 9th and 15th of September, the initiatives resulted in the audit of 187,000 pieces of plastic trash. According to the audit, Coke-branded plastic trash was found in 40 of the 42 countries in which the plastic cleanups were organized.

“We share Greenpeace’s goal of eliminating waste from the ocean and are prepared to do our part to help address this important challenge,” said Coca-Cola in a statement at the time. The company has pledged to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one it sells by 2030. In fact, each company has made a pledge about their packaging for 2025, be it eliminating single-use plastics, or reducing plastic. We believe these dates are too distant, and action needs to start now, with results visible by 2020 or earlier. 

In their letter dated 9 October, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Danone, and Nestlé insisted the environment ministers, “investment in mandatory tethered caps will not necessarily lead to the required outcomes” and instead suggested that the money would be more wisely spent on measures to increase recycling collection rates. 

The companies have also pledged to run trials in at least two countries by March to see how effective the new deposit return schemes (DRS) are at collecting bottles with caps and have also committed to upgrading the reverse-vending machine software if return rates are not above 95%. DRSs are schemes that financially reward consumers for returning used containers and are active in countries like the Netherlands and Germany.

Under the companies’ proposal, any upgrades would be rolled out across countries with existing return schemes, with the goal of reaching a 90% return rate by 2025. Again a time period not considered aggressive enough by most experts.  They also suggest that so-called extended producer responsibility schemes (EPRs), which make producers financially responsible to varying degrees for collection and sorting of recycled materials, should be tweaked to address the cap issue. The letter concludes by acknowledging that the tethered cap requirement should only come into force if their proposed alternatives are not effective “by the end of 2021”.

Members of the European Parliament will vote this week in Strasbourg on a draft report into the single-use plastic proposal, and several amendments to the Commission text aim to increase the onus on making sure caps are properly dealt with. It is this continued and extensive pressure on these giant corporates from the commission to become more aware and responsible for their environment that is hard to find in the subcontinent, where absolutely no fingers are raised against corporates creating thousands of tonnes of plastic with a primary and only focus on profits. In fact, corporate involvent with wate management and recycling is abysmal, with poorly implemented laws just one of the reasons cited. 

Recently, during the World Environment Day celebrations, Erik Solheim, Chief UNEP, announced that India had pledged to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022. 

“As global host of World Environment Day 2018, I reiterate our commitment to sustainable development. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live,” said PM Modi at the event. Again, a pledge that is at variance with the pledges of MNC”s on reducing or eliminating it only by 2025. So will they be exempt? 

Challenges will arise in realisation of the idea to “Beat Plastic Pollution” which would be around wide-scale implementation, better and faster reforms in policies etc, but the intent to stop it by 2022 set a roadmap for all stakeholders. India Inc had pledged to reduce the usage of plastics. Companies across sectors including PepsiCo India, ITC, Nestle India, Maruti Suzuki India, and Hyundai India expressed their commitments to the cause. Ahmed El Sheikh, President & CEO, PepsiCo India, said: “In line with reducing the impact of our packaging on the environment, we are committed to working with partners to leverage new technologies and developing sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging solutions.” The company plans to launch to launch its pilot plant for packaging of Lay’s and Kurkure using 100% compostable by-products.

For the plastics industry in India, that comprises over 30,000 units and employs near 4 million people, this move is just one of many that seem set to disrupt the industry repeatedly over the next few years.  Lofty projections of turnover and exports seem under threat at this stage, and it remains to be seen how the industry adapts.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a correspondent at iamrenew.com and writes on renewable energy and sustainability. As an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he also works as a staff writer for saurenergy.com.

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