According to a recent investigation by Deutsche Welle and the European Data Journalism Network, two out of three food companies in Europe are not keeping their self-imposed plastic commitments. The investigation examined 98 “plastics pledges” made over the past 20 years by 24 food and beverage companies headquartered in Europe. The results of the investigation are sobering – and will not only fall on the feet of the respective companies, but will discredit the entire industry. We need more effort and action, more monitoring by independent third parties, and more transparency through honest, proactive communication.
Proclaim good things, do too little and spread the cloak of silence over your failure: the investigation by Deutsche Welle and the European Data Journalism Network shows that a majority of the full-bodied – and certainly well-intentioned – announcements by European food companies on reducing plastic use are far too rarely followed by the corresponding actions.
The investigation in detail
- The investigation examined 98 “plastic pledges” made by 24 food companies headquartered in Europe.
- The self-commitments were announced in the last 20 years, with the majority dating from recent years.
- The target date for achieving the proclaimed goals was (and is) mostly 2025.
- Contents of the “plastic pledges” commonly include reduction of plastic use, substitution with other materials, use of recyclate or so-called bio-plastics, reusability and recyclable design.
- The survey results show that of 37 pledges with deadlines that have already passed, 68 percent have either failed or disappeared into obscurity without communication.
- Another finding of the investigation is that when companies fail to meet their commitments, they generally don’t disclose it openly. Instead, they silently drop their targets or postpone them internally to the distant future.
The results of the survey are undoubtedly sobering. Of course, there are often hard reasons for failure, such as the lack of availability or the skyrocketing prices of needed recyclates.
But either way, companies and their brands are measured by the commitments they make. The 2025 target used by most players is not far off – and will lead to a bitter conclusion if we don’t counteract quickly and decisively. The public will look very closely and judge without leniency.
We therefore need a clear framework that makes progress and lack of progress on the plastics commitments transparent and public. NGOs can play a weighty role in this. This applies in particular to targets that have only been announced in recent years. Mere self-commitment by companies is (obviously) not enough.
In our view, there are three measures that can help ensure compliance with the plastics commitments and avert discredit for the entire industry.
- companies need to increase their efforts. What is currently being done is not enough in most cases.
- the voluntary commitments should be subject to monitoring by third parties. This can be NGOs, but also participation in initiatives such as “New Plastics Economy”, which continuously check and track set targets.
- progress, but also difficulties and failures in the implementation of the plastics targets must be communicated transparently, honestly and proactively.