FRANCE – Surfrider Foundation Europe, ClientEarth and Zero Waste France have put “Big Food” corporations – including McDonald’s, Nestlé and Danone – on notice for failing to produce “Duty of Vigilance” plans for managing the impact of plastic waste caused by their products.

The coalition (Surfrider Foundation Europe, ClientEarth and Zero Waste France) has issued notice to Nestlé France, Danone, McDonald’s France, Carrefour, Groupe Casino, Les Mousquetaires, Auchan, Lactalis and Picard asking them to respond to their concerns and fulfill their legal obligations under French law.

The implicated companies now have 3 months to give an appropriate response – or they could face legal action.

Under the French Duty of Vigilance law, large companies with more than 5,000 employees in France, or 10,000 employees in France and their foreign subsidiaries, must publish an annual vigilance plan identifying the environmental and social risks stemming from their activities and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors.

These plans must include mitigation and prevention measures adapted to the severity of these risks, as well as a report on the implementation of these measures.

The environmental charity says some of these companies and corporations have published plans with incomplete and unsatisfactory measures on plastic.

Some did not consider it important to mention plastic in their plans, and some have not published a vigilance plan at all.

The legal notice comes as a growing number of cases and threats are issued against major companies over global plastic pollution.

Many environmental activists have warned that tightening legislation against plastics means the industry is at increased risk of litigation.

With the backdrop of policies such as the Single Use Plastics Directive, the UN Global Plastic Pollution Treaty and extended producer responsibility legislation, major F&B corporations could soon be exposed to a “tidal wave” of lawsuits, notes a spokesperson from Earth Island Institute.

“By now, we are all familiar with the disastrous effects of plastic litter. But plastic’s harm goes beyond the end-of-life impact,” said Rosa Pritchard ClientEarth’s lawyer.

“From carbon emissions to the chemical compounds from which plastics are made, plastic also impacts our health and the environment when it’s being produced and used.

“The fact that these companies are not addressing these harms adequately as part of their reporting under this law is a serious oversight and one we will not hesitate to challenge.”

Recycling myth

In a statement, Surfrider Foundation says that, at best, the companies’ plans highlighted the recyclability of their products.

“Unfortunately, recycling only addresses a tiny fraction of the risks associated with plastic use – and recycling figures globally are nothing short of dismal,” notes the statement.

“None of the companies targeted present a credible deplastification path for all their activities in their vigilance plan.

“Through our legal letters, we are urging the companies to abide by the law and respond to our demands.”

The viability of recycling as an adequate means of tackling plastic waste is fast disappearing. Globally only around 9% of plastic has ever been recycled.

Recently, Plastic Recyclers Europe warned that many recycling facilities would soon be forced to close under the pressure of rising energy costs.

Given the failure to create adequate plans or any plans at all, the coalition is demanding that all nine companies produce a complete assessment of their use of plastic, encompassing all their activities throughout the value chain.

On the basis of these assessments, they must then put together a “deplastification” plan with quantified and dated objectives and act on it.

Coalition spokesperson Antidia Citores concludes: “How can it be that in 2022, despite a clear legal obligation, these companies are not providing comprehensive reporting on their use of plastic and the inherent associated risks for the environment and human rights? In fact, some fail to provide any vigilance plan at all.”

“Recycling is not a catch-all solution – far from it. These companies need to elevate the reduction of plastic use to top priority.”

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