Kraft Foods’ refusal to adopt a policy on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for its US packaging operations is likely causing millions of dollars of post-consumer waste ending up in landfill, said a shareholder advocacy group as it warned the move would weaken the firm's ability to influence any future rules on the issue.
The declaration by non-profit body As You Sow came after 25% of Kraft’s investors called on the company to consider the option.
But the firm countered by saying sustainability was a shared responsibility with players throughout the supply chain and that its current waste-reductions initiatives fully demonstrated its green credentials.
Policies on EPR, already in place throughout much of Europe, Canada, and Japan, oblige companies that use large amounts of packaging to take responsibility for collection and recycling of their post-consumer packaging.
Urged to take responsibility
As You Sow has condemned Kraft for its rejection of the proposal and called on the leading US food company to take responsibility for the millions of tons of packaging waste left in the wake of the consumption of its products.
The body said the first-ever shareholder vote on the issue held at Kraft’s recent annual meeting in Stokie, Illinois saw a quarter of shareholders back its motion for Kraft to compile a feasibility study on implementing EPR.
EPR systems can lead to re‐evaluating the way companies design, use, and re‐use the resources and materials that go into their packaging. As You Sow noted Kraft had admitted that approximately 30% of its packaging may not be readily recyclable.
Conrad MacKerron, senior program director at As You Sow, said: "At a time when governments across the country are focusing on conserving natural resources, reducing waste, and finding it increasingly difficult to maintain services in the face of budget deficits, Kraft and its peers must take responsibility for the massive amount of packaging waste they generate in the U.S., as they have done in many other countries."
Out of the EPR loop?
The group claimed that wasted packaging materials amounting to billions of dollars a year are being sent to landfill because of a lack of federal and local funding for recycling programmes. It said a recent assessment by Resource Recycling suggested wasted packaging materials represented a loss of US$6.5bn (€5.22bn) in potential market revenue, or $12bn of un-reclaimed energy value annually.
"Kraft is likely allowing millions of dollars' worth of resources from its post-consumer products to go to a landfill," added MacKerron.
Momentum for EPR in the US is building among cash-strapped legislators but also major food corporations such as Nestle Waters and Coca-Cola. The purpose of the vote was to urge Kraft to become involved in shaping any EPR rules, said As You Sow.
It cautioned: “By lacking a public policy position on EPR, Kraft runs the risk of not having its interests represented during the drafting and implementation of such legislation.”
But Kraft said its longstanding, strategic and comprehensive efforts on sustainability throughout its operations showed it was fully committed to cutting packaging waste and that EPR would be detrimental to the company.
“At Kraft Foods, we regard sustainability as a strategic global business priority. We believe that sustainability is about conducting business in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically responsible,” corporate external communications head Richard Buino told FoodProductionDaily.com.
He added that Kraft had cut more than 100,000 metric tons (200 million pounds) of packaging from its supply chain between 2005 and 2012 and aimed to eliminate a further 50,000 metric tons by 2015.
The firm said it was working to incorporate more sustainable packaging materials, that the majority of people could recycle more than 70% (by weight) of its packaging in North America and it was also employing life cycle assessments (LCAs) as part of a wider move to reduce its environmental impact.
Crucially, Buino declared that the company believed carbon footprint minimisation was not solely its responsibility – but a collective one to be borne by stakeholders throughout the value chain.
“Because we can demonstrate that our policies, practices and reporting are already moving us in the right direction, we do not believe that a report on the adoption of an ‘extended producer responsibility’ policy would be an effective use of our company's resources or in the best interest of our company or our shareholders,” he said.
“Rather, we believe this is a shared responsibility (not just for manufacturers), which is why we’re working with others to find realistic solutions,”added Buino.
This involved partnerships with other players including private, governmental and non-governmental organisations – as including consumers.
Any lasting solution required an approach that included public education, public-private partnerships, changes in public policy and the enhancement of infrastructure, he said.
This was why the company was involved in initiatives such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Grocery Manufacturers Association and a co-leader of the Consumer Goods Forum's Global Packaging Project.