the maker of Pepsi soda and Lays potato chips, said it would double the use of reusable packaging to 20% from 10% by 2030.
While plastic production continues to grow, driven by the boom in shale gas production in the U.S. and China, recycling rates are falling: just 5%-6% of plastic waste is recycled in the U.S. while 94% is disposed of in landfills, burned in incinerators, or ends up in waterways and oceans. At the same time, the cost of recycled plastic is soaring and new, or virgin, plastic is tumbling.
Pepsi’s (ticker: PEP) pledge comes in response to a shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow that asked the company to report on actions it could take to rapidly reduce dependence on single-use plastic packaging and suggested setting stronger goals for refillable containers. It follows a similar commitment earlier this year from
(KO)—also in response to a shareholder proposal from the shareholder advocacy nonprofit. Coke agreed to set a goal to increase the share of its beverages delivered in returnable or refillable containers from a current 16% to 25% of beverages by volume in refillables by 2030.
“There is increasing interest among shareholders and investors to hold companies accountable to make new commitments to do more to reduce plastic pollution,” said Conrad MacKerron, vice president at As You Sow. “Pepsi’s 20% commitment isn’t as high as the commitment by Coca-Cola, but it does represent a doubling of what they say they’re currently doing. It is a significant commitment. But the proof will be whether they can actually follow through.”
As You Sow said refillable bottles help companies “substantially cut plastic waste” as they can be reused up to 40 times. By comparison, less than 30% of single use polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, beverage containers are recycled in the U.S.
In 2021, Pepsi announced new goals to improve packaging sustainability, including cutting virgin plastic by 50% per serving across its global food and beverage portfolio by 2030 and using 50% recycled content in its plastic packaging, and scale the SodaStream business globally. But last month, a report found that some of the world’s latest consumer goods companies, including PepsiCo, are likely to miss a target to make plastic packaging more sustainable by 2025. The study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment program also said that some companies are using more virgin plastic despite a pledge to cut back.
Pepsi said it would achieve the boost in its reusable plastic by expanding its SodaStream business at home and in workplaces; increasing its use of refillable plastic and glass bottles in selected markets; finding ways to ensure more fountain drinks are served in reusable cups; and pushing growth in products such as Gatorade offered as powders and concentrates.
The new goal is part of Pepsi’s commitment to put “sustainability and people at the center of how the company will create growth and value,” according to the press release. The company added that offering its beverages in reusable packaging that eliminate the need for single-use virgin plastic isn’t new and has been an important element of the company’s sustainability strategy since 2018, when it bought SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company for $3.2 billion.
“Reuse is also a critical lever to meet PepsiCo’s goals to reduce virgin plastic per serving by 50% by 2030 and to become Net Zero by 2040, and progress toward these goals will also be driven—in partnership with our bottlers—by increasing recycled content in our packaging,” the company said.
An estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean each year—the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute, according to a recent report.
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