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As You Sow pushes fast-food companies to improve packaging recycling

Clare Goldsberry

April 8, 2016

3 Min Read
As You Sow pushes fast-food companies to improve packaging recycling

Activist group As You Sow (San Francisco, CA) doesn’t show up on the activistfacts.com site, but Wikipedia notes that the group was founded in 1992 and, through its Environmental Enforcement Program, “has reached settlements with hundreds of companies resulting in products being relabeled or reformulated to remove allegedly hazardous ingredients.” The information didn’t clarify what type of “settlements” are reached; however, in a recent press release the group announced various “proposals” to shareholders of Chipotle and the Dunkin’ and YUM! brands to reduce both packaging and food waste, put in place “increased recycling” programs and introduce recycled content in their packaging.

The proposal made to Chipotle’s shareholders specifically noted that “Chipotle does not routinely provide recycling or composting bins for consumers at its restaurants, nor does it have a packaging recycling policy with stated goals or a timeline for collecting and recycling the containers in which its food and beverages are sold.” The proposals made to Dunkin’ Donuts and YUM! point out similar issues.

All of the proposals were subsequently withdrawn by As You Sow after it received responses from the companies stating their intentions to provide a report on the “feasibility of developing a comprehensive recycling policy for on-site food and beverage packaging.”

Dunkin’ agreed, for example, to discuss adopting recycling and recycled content goals for food service packaging. “In 2014, Dunkin’ announced it would find a replacement for its foam coffee cups, which have been criticized as environmentally unfriendly, aiming for a transition by the end of 2015,” said As You Sow’s release. “Dunkin’ recently said it expects to replace foam with a recyclable polypropylene cup, but postponed its rollout, citing customer concerns about the lid on the new cup, made from HIPS, which is not accepted in many recycling programs. The company is looking for a better alternative lid.”

There’s where some good education comes in. If activist groups like As You Sow are approaching large corporations with proposals that include getting rid of some types of plastics as “non-recyclable” or “environmentally unfriendly,” the plastics industry needs to approach the shareholders of these companies with good information: EPS cups are recyclable and there are recycling companies that specialize in this.

For As You Sow, it’s a step in the right direction—away from lambasting plastic as a globally evil material and into encouraging companies toward sound recycling programs.

Recycling is good—probably the second best way (the first would be incineration) to handle plastic waste because of the large infrastructure in place that can accommodate large quantities of this material. It’s still not optimum and the entire recycling process—from picking up the recyclate in large, fossil-fuel-powered trucks and dropping it off at the recycling plant, the energy used at the recycling plant to sort, bale and then ship the recyclate to reprocessing plants and the many employees who drive to their jobs at the recycling facilities—produces its own carbon footprint.

Making it easy for people to recycle by putting bins in places where consumers purchase the food is a good idea. But at the end of the day it’s up to every individual person to practice good recycling activities and help capture the value contained in “waste” items, particularly plastics.

The plastics industry needs to get on board with educating large corporations in the scientific facts about plastic materials, additives, recycling and other means of reducing materials and reusing what is valuable. We in the industry need to be at least as proactive as the activist groups in leading the charge away from unscientific hype and toward the true science of plastics.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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