Since 1950, global plastic production has risen 150-fold to 350 million metric tons, with packaging accounting for 40% of total use. The manufacture of plastic generates greenhouse gases, heavy metals, and particulates, and discarded plastics pollute ecosystems. The food industry has the biggest consumers. Coca-Cola, for example, uses 3 million tons each year, according to Break Free from Plastic, an advocacy group.
PRESSING FOR CHANGE
Investors who want to change food-industry policies can practice active ownership by voting on shareholder resolutions that address packaging. Since 2015, U.S. shareholders have voted on 32 resolutions targeting plastic-packaging practices in the food industry, according to Morningstar Sustainalytics. Until recently, none of them had achieved a majority vote.
Last year, a resolution recommending that DuPont report annually on the effectiveness of its policies to reduce plastic pollution achieved 81% of shareholders' support. Five months later, DuPont said it was joining Operation Clean Sweep blue, a plastics-industry program that commits members to managing and reporting on plastic pollution.
A MIXED BAG
This year, activists withdrew plastic packaging resolutions at Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Kraft Heinz after these companies agreed to changes, according to Morningstar Sustainalytics' Engagement Services, which provides shareholder resolution research and voting recommendations. Resolutions went to a vote at four food companies: Jack in the Box (where 95% of shareholders voted in favor), McDonald’s (42%), Kroger (38%), and Tyson Foods (14%). Not counting Tyson family holdings, 57% of Tyson Foods’ shareholders supported the resolution.