Posted on June 17, 2020 by Sustainable Food News

Whole Foods, UNFI earn F’s in plastic pollution report

Nation's 2nd-largest organic food producer earns D on for efforts to address plastic pollution

A new report examining the efforts of 50 of the largest U.S. consumer-facing companies to reduce plastic pollution gave both organic and natural grocery chain Whole Foods Market and United Natural Foods Inc., the largest organic and natural food wholesaler, a grade of F, while the second-largest U.S. producer of organic foods, General Mills Inc., earned a D.

The report, released Wednesday by Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit As You Sow, concluded that, overall, the 50 retailers, CPG companies, f&b manufacturers, and quick-service restaurants, are far too slow in adopting responsive actions and promoting reusability, recyclability, or compostability in their packaging.

The report, titled “Waste & Opportunity 2020: Searching for Corporate Leadership,” which comes amid growing global concern about ocean plastic pollution, also showed that the 50 companies are failing to shift away from wasteful packaging, toward circular models that prioritize absolute reduction.

Plastic production is set to quadruple by 2050, yet only 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled globally, and just 13 percent is recycled in the United States.

The report’s packaging sustainability rankings are indicated by a letter grade scale (A to F) across six pillars of evaluation: 1) Packaging Design; 2) Reusable Packaging; 3) Recycled Content; 4) Packaging Data Transparency; 5) Supporting Recycling; and 6) Producer Responsibility.

The report’s highest grade was given to consumer products giant Unilever, which earned a B-, while 12 companies received C grades, 22 received D grades, and 15 received F grades.

Whole Foods Market, a subsidiary of ecommerce giant Amazon.com, earned the following grades:

  • Packaging Design: D
  • Reusable Packaging: F
  • Recycled Content: D
  • Packaging Data Transparency: F
  • Supporting Recycling: C-
  • Producer Responsibility: F

General Mills Inc., owner of the Annie’s, Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen organic brands, among others, earned the following grades:

  • Packaging Design: B-
  • Reusable Packaging: F
  • Recycled Content: C
  • Packaging Data Transparency: D+
  • Supporting Recycling: C-
  • Producer Responsibility: F

United Natural Foods Inc. earned the following grades:

  • Packaging Design: D
  • Reusable Packaging: F
  • Recycled Content: F
  • Packaging Data Transparency: F
  • Supporting Recycling: F
  • Producer Responsibility: F

Meanwhile, the six lowest ranked companies by size of revenue were Walmart, Kroger, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods, Kraft Heinz, and Mondelēz International.

The most progress by companies in their effort to reduce plastic waste was evident in pledges to redesign packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, followed by commitments to increase recycled content and actions to support recycling.

There was notably less leadership in the areas of reusable packaging innovation, data transparency, and producer responsibility. These results indicate that companies have a long way to go to transition from single-use plastics to reusable alternatives, take financial responsibility to fix the U.S. recycling system to dramatically increase recycling yields, and deliver a more circular plastics economy.

“This report shows that the consumer goods industry is failing to address single-use plastics and take financial responsibility to improve recycling. We were unable to identify leadership companies, but rather found scattered leadership actions,” said Conrad MacKerron, As You Sow’s senior vice president and lead author of the report.

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