That’s according to a new report – Waste and Opportunity 2015: Environmental Progress and Challenges in Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Packaging – published by As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

The report reviews the packaging practices of 47 fast food and quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains, beverage companies and consumer goods/grocery firms such as Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca Cola. 

It found that Americans only recycle an estimated 51% of food and drink packaging materials, and less than 14% of all plastic packaging – less than half the figure of the UK, where 30% of plastic packaging is recycled.

As You Sow’s senior vice president and report author Conrad MacKerron explained that the US’s recycling rate is lagging behind that of other developed countries. “We found that most leading US fast food, beverage, and packaged goods companies are coming up significantly short of where they should be when it comes to the environmental aspects of packaging,” said MacKerron.

“These companies have not sufficiently prioritized packaging source reduction, recyclability, compostability, recycled content, and recycling policies. Increased attention to these key attributes of packaging sustainability would result in more efficient utilization of postconsumer packaging, higher U.S. recycling rates, reduced ocean plastic pollution, and new green recycling jobs.”

Pouch packaging

Few companies analysed in the report were found to have robust sustainable packaging policies or system-wide programs to recycle their packages, and none of the 47 companies attained the highest rating of “Best Practises”. 

The report particularly highlights the rapid growth of flexible plastic pouch packaging which is not recyclable anywhere in the world, such as Kraft’s Capri-Sun product. A whole range of goods which used to be sold in recyclable packaging is shifting to pouch packaging, which can only be sent to landfill. 

As You Sow, which promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, states that far more brand leadership to boost lagging US recycling rates and enhance sustainability of packaging is needed to help ensure that packaging is manufactured and disposed of responsibly. 

Chief executive Andrew Behar said: “US-based companies that take responsibility for financing the recycling of packaging in scores of other countries fight that responsibility here in the U.S. without offering viable alternatives.

This industry foot-dragging is one of the primary reasons we recycle only 14% of plastic packaging in the US The more we boost recycling rates, the more we reduce the use of virgin natural resources and mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Lucinda Dann

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