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Advocacy group pressures CPGs to adopt Extended Producer Responsibility

Linda Casey

January 29, 2014

4 Min Read
Advocacy group pressures CPGs to adopt Extended Producer Responsibility


Shareholder advocacy group As You Sow has filed shareholder resolutions this week with Procter & Gamble (P&G) and General Mills to adopt Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs. Resolutions with General Mills were filed on April 13, 2011, and with P&G on the April 26, 2011, the group reports. The move is intended to pressure the CPGs to start collecting and recycling product packaging in their U.S. operations.


Both companies have made significant advances in the sustainability arena. Earlier this week, P&G started commercial production of plant-based plastic bottles for Pantene hair care products. This announcement followed a Web event, where P&G shared the results from year one of its supplier sustainability scorecard project. The company discussed not only some of the data collected from the cards, but also how it was updating the card to encourage more sustainability innovations among its partners. The company also stated that from this point forward, sustainability scores will impact overall ratings of its suppliers. (See P&G warns suppliers that sustainability scores will impact overall ratings.)

General Mills boasts a long history of using sustainable packaging materials. The company says it started using recycled materials in its paperboard cartons in the 1930s, and General Mills is among the largest users of post-consumer recycled paper packaging in the United States. And, according to a post by the Intl. Business Times, General Mills made its first-ever packaging commitment this year: To improve the sustainability of  40 percent of its packaging by global product volume by 2015. (The full post can be viewed on the Intl. Business Times website.

As You Sow says the shareholder resolution is the first to be filed by shareholders on this issue. The shareholder proposals to General Mills and P&G were co‐filed by Green Century Equity Fund and Walden Asset Management; the proposal to P&G was also co‐filed by Trillium Asset Management on behalf of New England Biolabs Foundation. Also, Nelson Capital Management is actively engaged in the dialogue with General Mills.

The P&G and General Mills proposals ask the companies to report to shareholders on how taking responsibility for post-consumer product packaging can reduce carbon emissions as well as air and water pollution and lead to re-evaluating the way they design, use and re-use the resources and materials that go into their packaging. The proposals also ask the companies to take the lead in emerging public policy debates under way in several states on how to manage and finance EPR policies. 

"We're burning and landfilling 40 million tons of recyclable packaging materials estimated to be worth $15 to $23 billion every year." says Conrad MacKerron, As You Sow's senior director for corporate responsibility. "We can no longer afford to discard packaging containing valuable resources. As shareholders we see this as throwing away revenue and we need to stop it immediately."

It should be noted that the use of packaging materials for waste-to-energy (W2E) may be framed by MacKerron as discarding packaging containing valuable resources, the practice can help avoid greenhouse gases that would have been produced by fossil fuel electrical energy generation and is sometimes is referred to as a "negative emission" power source. (See New breakthroughs in flexible-packaging recycling for more information about W2E and its role in the packaging industry.) Also, as recent events at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant put more scrutiny on nuclear power generation, W2E can be added to the world's arsenal of alternative methods of electrical generation. 

When it announced plans to file the shareholder resolutions, As You Sow did cite impressive statistics on the success of EPR laws in Europe, though. Some of the statistics offered by the group include:

"In 2007 the average packaging recycling rate across 27 participating EU countries reached 59 percent. Belgium's FOST Plus system recycled 93 percent of consumer packaging in 2009. 32 million tons of packaging was recovered by EPR programs in EU countries in 2009 saving 25 million tons of CO2. EPR has shown it can decouple packaging growth from economic growth. Between 1998 and 2007, four main elements of the packaging waste stream--glass, metals, paper and cardboard, plastics grew at just half the rate of GDP, according to the European Environmental Agency."


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