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Deplastification: companies failing to overcome their dependence on plastic 

One year after ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation and Zero Waste France put nine major French companies on notice are still far from showing their commitment to a genuine deplastification trajectory as explained in a report on the progress of these companies’ due diligence plans, published today. 

A formal notice to remedy a world awash in plastic 

In a world where global plastic production almost doubled between 2000 and 2019 and could triple again by 2060, and where only 9% of plastics are actually recycled, businesses need to deplastify. Deplastifying means planning and implementing a drastic reduction in the production and use of all plastics in economic activities, throughout the value chain, and in line with the principles of the circular economy

Exactly one year ago, nine food and retail companies were given formal notice to reduce their use of plastic by Surfrider Foundation Europe, ClientEarth and Zero Waste France for failing in their due diligence regarding plastics: Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, Danone, Lactalis, McDonald’s France, Les Mousquetaires, Picard Surgelés and Nestlé France. 

These companies are known for the vast quantities of single-use plastic packaging they put on our shelves and in our bins every year, such as yoghurt pots, bottles and pasta bags. But this is only the visible face of the problem. Lurking in the shadows are other plastics that are just as problematic: logistics packaging, agricultural and industrial plastics, plastics used by employees, suppliers or distributors, and so on. 

The formal notice served on these companies followed an analysis of the due diligence plans that must be published by French companies with more than 5,000 employees. The law requires these companies to publish a vigilance plan that identifies, prioritizes and maps the risks of serious violations of human rights, health and the environment arising from their activities and those of their suppliers and subcontractors, and to adopt appropriate measures to prevent and mitigate these risks. (see end below). 

Read: 9 companies served with formal notice for failing to comply with the duty of care relating to their use of plastics

1 year after being put on notice, they’re still not there yet 

Last year, we put these companies on notice because they either referred to incomplete or unsatisfactory measures on plastic, omitted to mention plastic at all, or failed to publish a vigilance plan.

In the space of a year, the scourge of plastic has continued to make headlines. An international plastic treaty to prevent plastic pollution is even under consideration. This year was therefore another milestone in the drive to raise awareness of the issue and to ensure that plastic is addressed properly in due diligence plans

So, one year on, where do they stand?

We have again analysed the due diligence plans of these 9 companies. Our full analysis is available in a report that we are publishing on Thursday 28 September.

The assessment can be summed up as follows: companies are like swimmers at the deep end of the pool. The race has already begun, the urgency is there, and yet each one remains on the edge of the pool. 

Most companies seem to have a better understanding of the risks associated with the use of plastic and to recognise the urgent need to deplastify. However, they are slow to launch in the race to deplastify. And some – still lagging behind – are failing to grasp the risks and act on them. Worse still: a year after our formal notice, some companies have not even published a due diligence plan

Although the Casino and Lactalis groups have published new plans, they do not contain any substantial progress on the issue of plastic.

Danone, despite our legal action, has not published an assessment of its plastic-use, does not appear to be monitoring plastic reduction and no deplastification trajectory.

Nestlé France has still not published a due diligence plan for 2022. Its 2021 plan, published after our formal notice, remained unsatisfactory

As for the Les Mousquetaires, Auchan and Carrefour groups, the new plans published recognise the seriousness of the risks associated with plastic, but do not set out a deplastification trajectory.

Finally, McDonald’s France and Picard still do not have a due diligence plan incorporating risks relating to plastics, arguing that they do not fall under the scope of the law to produce a due diligence plan. 

Read the full report

It’s time to take the plunge! Deplastification must be the priority 

The race to deplastify requires investment, lucidity, self-knowledge and determination.   

As a reminder, the law on the duty of vigilance requires the publication of vigilance plans covering all the risks generated by a company’s activities in terms of their impact on health, human rights and the environment.  

To comply with the law, companies that have been served with formal notice must respect 4 golden rules

  • The first is to understand  understand the stakes of the race to deplastify for a truly vigilant plan, it is imperative that companies identify all the risks associated risks associated with the use of plastic throughout its lifecycle. 
  • The second is to measure the size of the pool: companies are using plastic today, but how much? Plastic today, but in what quantities? In other words, how much effort will they have to make to deplastify?  The best way to tackle this is to publish a comprehensive assessment of the use of plastic that addresses all plastics used by the company. 
  • The third is to plan: Just as a race demands specific performance and time goals, each company must set solid deadlines and quantifiable plastic reduction objectives. The scope of the deplastification strategy must reflect the urgency of the task and the extent of the company’s current dependence on plastic. 
  • Lastly, keep an eye on the timer! Although there’s no substitute for meticulous planning, careful and regular monitoring will help to identify any obstacles that arise during the race. 

Swimmers must now plunge in the water. Will there be any pleasant surprises in the due diligence plans published next year? 

Throughout its life, plastic generates serious impacts on the environment, health and human rights. Since its invention, the use of plastics has grown at the expense of the environment, health and human rights.  

At every stage of their life cycle, plastics release hazardous substances that contaminate the air, water and soil, and contribute to climate change. In 2019 alone, 22 million tons of plastic – equivalent to the weight of 2178 Eiffel Towers – were released into the environment, according to the OECD1

Once they sink into the depths of the ocean, plastics accumulate and break down, endangering marine species and contaminating the entire food chain by releasing chemical additives. Marine ecosystems are not the only ones affected. According to the FAO, our soils are even more contaminated by plastic pollution than our oceans2

From production to end-of-life, plastic is a major contributor to climate change. In 2021, single-use plastic accounted for the equivalent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions3. If plastic production continues to grow, it could seriously jeopardize compliance with the Paris Agreement4

  1. OECD, “Global Plastics Outlook: Economic drivers, environmental impacts and policy options”, 2022, page 14. ↩︎
  2. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, “Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and their Sustainability”, 2021. ↩︎
  3. Minderoo Foundation, “Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023”, 2023.  ↩︎
  4. The Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq, “Breaking the plastic wave: A comprehensive assessment of pathways towards stopping ocean plastic pollution”, 2020. ↩︎