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Which companies were naughty—and which were nice—in 2019?

Santa with naughty and nice list
From a plastics industry perspective, here are our naughty and nice lists. Surprisingly, two beverage giants showed up on both.

It’s time to draft the naughty and nice lists for 2019 and see which companies deserve to be rewarded and which ones will get a lump of coal in their stocking.

Let’s start with the naughty ones. First in line are all the companies that abandoned the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) out of fear they won’t be perceived by consumers as being “green” but, rather, in cahoots with the planet’s number one enemy. (It’s really too bad that PLASTICS changed its name from the former SPI acronym—it would have been less noticeable to the activist groups.)

Dropping their membership in PLASTICS is one way these big brand owners can get the activist groups off their backs, at least for a while. There’s no guarantee that the anti-plastic activists will not pursue packaged consumer goods companies to the ends of the earth to get them to stop using plastic in any form.

These companies caved to pressure from activist organizations that do not understand polymer science. By leaving the association, these consumer goods companies are also acknowledging that science means nothing in their business, even as most of these companies use science to develop their products.

Jeers go to:

  • SC Johnson & Sons. The consumer products company dropped its membership in PLASTICS under pressure from Greenpeace, a non-scientific organization that promotes “fake” science about plastics.
  • Coca-Cola. This company also dropped its membership in PLASTICS, caving to pressure from activist groups to shun plastics in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives, whatever those might be. Coca-Cola depends on polymers to keep its beverages safe and shelf-stable, reduce loss due to breakage and achieve cost efficiencies in production and transportation. Coca-Cola uses tons of PET each year. There are no better, more cost-effective alternatives for this beverage company.
  • PepsiCo. Another global beverage brand that didn’t have the guts to stand up to anti-plastics activists and dropped its membership in PLASTICS, as a way to fake its way into the “green” club. Hey, fake it ‘til you make it!
  • Activist groups. A big lump of coal for As You Sow, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Greenpeace, and all others that shun science and scientific information regarding the benefits of plastics. Shame on them!
  • Starbucks. It made our naughty list for eliminating its ubiquitous green straws. Starbucks caved to pressure from activist groups for fear of being “green-shamed” by the myth that plastic straws are destroying wildlife. Starbucks’ green straws could have been a great way to show how “green” and eco-friendly plastic materials really are. Instead, the company is switching to a recyclable plastic adult “sippy cup” lid. That’s some consolation for industry—after all, those sippy cup lids use more plastic than the straws they are replacing, which is good for the industry. We’ll take a win where we can.
  • McDonald’s. The Golden Arches put on a "green" face by abandoning eco-friendly plastic straws in favor of so-called recyclable, thick-walled paper straws that require the use of tremendous amounts of resources, especially water, during production. McDonald’s, like other companies that climbed aboard the anti-straw bandwagon, is “virtue-signaling”—alternatives such as paper, avocado pits—you name it—are no better for the planet.
  • KFC. Part of Yum! Brands Inc., KFC also sipped the Kool-Aid, caving to As You Sow’s demands by committing to the elimination of non-recoverable or non-reusable plastic packaging by 2025. Since most of its packaging is currently coated paperboard (buckets and boxes), which is non-recyclable, I’m trying to figure out if they will be changing those packaging items to recyclable plastic buckets and boxes for their take-out meals. More virtue signaling.

So, which companies made the nice list? While I gave PepsiCo and Coca-Cola each a lump of coal for deserting the plastics industry’s trade association, these two companies also get a big candy cane for being nice.

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey stated last month that the drinks company is “committed to collecting and recycling plastic bottles rather than switching to aluminum cans” to reduce its carbon footprint. Coca-Cola also belongs to the Every Bottle Back initiative of the American Beverage Association, which aims to collect every PET bottle out there and get it recycled. Quincey stated that recycling PET is the goal and that Coca-Cola “has no plans to reduce its own use of plastics.”

PepsiCo joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste with a goal of “building a world where plastics need never become waste,” said Kirk Tanner, CEO, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “We are proud to collaborate with others in the industry and respected partners to advance that vision and to do the hard work needed to educate consumers, enable collections and inspire action to recycle our plastic bottles. More recycled plastic lessens the need for new plastic.”

Procter & Gamble gets on the nice list for its CEO’s efforts with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. In January of this year, P&G CEO David Taylor was named chairman of the alliance. In April, P&G committed to reduce its use of virgin plastics by 50% by 2030. With so many cities and states demanding that more markets be created for recycled plastics, this should go a long way toward achieving that goal.

And a big candy cane goes to all those companies that recognized that plastic waste—most of which originates from the actions of careless people—is not acceptable, but that plastic is a valuable material that provides many economic and eco-friendly benefits to the world and should be recycled.

Is there a company or organization that you would like to see on the naughty or nice list? Tell us in the comments box below.

Image: Vectorfusionart/Adobe Stock

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