How to Get Companies to Care About Recycling? Get the Shareholders on Board

"Packaging can be up to 50 percent of a company’s total [carbon] footprint."

"Packaging can be up to 50 percent of a company’s total [carbon] footprint." Which is why As You Sow is urging companies to turn the waste they generate into a renewable resource. Image via Flickr user Tony Webster (cc)

Though California has one of the highest recycling rates in the nation, America generates more waste than any other country in the world and recycles less. The severity of this issue drives one of the pet projects of As You Sow, a corporate social responsibility (CSR) business. Founded in 1992, As You Sow has become an instigator of of corporate environmental responsibility, leading measurable change in the beverage packaging sector. As You Sow’s vision holds that shareholders are “the single most powerful force for creating positive, lasting changes in corporate behavior.” Thus, they make proposals directly to shareholders, and issue an annual report card that rates companies on their recycling and sustainability efforts. Their efforts have had a positive impact on sustainability efforts of the three biggest beverage companies, Coca Cola, Nestlé Waters, and Pepsi, since 2006.

Conrad MacKerron
Senior Vice President, As You Sow

Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow, runs the outreach initiative on recycling and waste issues. He initiated the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) effort, he tells GOOD, “Because I was concerned about poor bottle and can recycling rates in the U.S.” The goal of EPRs, he says, is to “shift the funding of recycling from taxpayer to companies. All of us pay for recycling and garbage as citizens in the US.” He doesn’t feel that leaving the financial burden with the individual is the best way to improve recycling rates.

EPR has been successful in other industries, such as consumer electronics, and batteries—where consumers can return these to drop-off stations and then manufacturers handle recycling or reusing the materials—but the idea is relatively new to the bottle and packaging industries. As You Sow joined forces with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to grade the packaging practices of 47 companies including fast food chains, beverage companies and consumer goods and grocery companies in their 2015 Waste and Opportunity Report based on “four pillars” or practices:

  • \nSource Reduction: Switch to reusable packaging, or packaging with less material to reduce virgin content.
  • \nRecycled Content: Use recycled content to make new products, which helps create a market for recycled materials and requires far fewer resources.
  • \nRecyclability and Materials Use: Materials that are very difficult to recycle, like flexible laminate pouches, should be avoided.
  • \nBoosting Materials Recycling: Other materials are recycled but only at low rates because of lack of bins, infrastructure, end markets, or public education. Companies have failed to do enough to ensure their packaging is actually recycled.

“Since many companies are focused on climate change and reducing their carbon footprint, issues of waste often get kicked down to the back burner,” MacKerron says. This, he feels, is a mistake, considering that managing the packaging side of solid waste better can lead to reduction in the total carbon footprint. “Coke has done research showing that packaging can be up to 50 percent of a company’s total footprint.”

When the EPR program was first broached with the big beverage companies in 2006 after their first report card grades came back low, MacKerron says he was soon impressed with Nestlé Waters’ turnaround and commitment to bringing up PET beverage container recycling rates when other companies still balked at making changes. “We educated over 60 companies for whom recycling wasn’t even on their radar,” says MacKerron. “In most cases we were the first group who had asked ‘What is your policy on your responsibility for recycling your packaging?’ and ‘What would you pay to help recycle your products?’ In October of 2008, Nestlé Waters became the first beverage company to commit to an industry-wide bottle recovery goal. As You Sow recognized the company for its commitment to help improve recycling rates to 60 percent for PET plastic beverage bottles by 2018.

As You Sow now has its sights set on companies that produce non-beverage packaging, such as Proctor and Gamble, and is putting special pressure on those that produce flexible plastic pouch packaging, which combine thin aluminum and polyethylene plastic for longer shelf life, such as Kraft’s Capri Suns. “There’s no end-of-life solution for them,” says MacKerron. “They can’t be recycled anywhere, so they’re all tossed into landfill. We’ve gone to these companies saying we want them to work on making these recyclable.”

The beverage companies are in the best position to increase recycling rates since the PET (#1) plastic used by most of them is highly recyclable, and less likely to become contaminated when only used as beverage containers (compared to say, motor oil or peanut butter containers, which also use PET). The more consumers recycle their containers, the more material is available to keep the closed loop system of bottle-to-bottle recycling going. Recycled PET (rPET), however, is so popular that the carpet and textile industries also use it for making their products, which can reduce the available amount of rPET on the market. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for rPET beverage bottles to be used in carpets; take something dirtier and keep the bottles in a closed loop,” says MacKerron. “Maybe you get one more life out of it as a carpet, but you might get 50 more uses in a bottle to bottle loop.”

MacKerron sees small waves of change on the horizon and remains optimistic that with these three big beverage companies leading the way, other brands, in other sectors, will soon feel more than just the heat of climate change, and get on board to improve their practices.


The global climate change strikes on Friday are said to have been the largest protest for climate change in history. An estimated four million people participated in 2,500 events across 163 countries on all seven continents. That included an estimated 300,000 Australians, but a total of zero were in Hyde Park in Sydney, despite a viral photo that claims otherwise.

Australian Youth Coal Coalition, a pro-coal Facebook page, posted a photo showing trash strewn across a park after what appears to have been a large event. "Look at the mess today's climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park," the photo was captioned. "So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad." The only problem is, the photo wasn't taken after a climate change protest. It wasn't even taken in Australia.

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via GOOD / YouTube

Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries across the globe took to the streets to urge world leaders to enact dramatic solutions to combat climate change.

The Climate Strike was inspired, in part, by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has captured worldwide attention for her tireless work to hold lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis.

The strike gave people across the planet the opportunity to make their voices heard before the U.N. General Assembly Climate Summit in New York City on Monday.

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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

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Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

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Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

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