In a review article published on November 30, 2021, in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Anna (Anya) Phelan and co-authors from The University of Queensland, Australia, examined how the food and beverage industry addresses plastic pollution and producer responsibility and what sustainable packaging solutions they report on. The scientists chose to investigate the food and beverage sector because it significantly contributes to the issue of plastic pollution (FPF reported), has considerable potential to support a transition to sustainable packaging, but has rarely been thoroughly investigated.

The authors systemically reviewed 68 corporate sustainability reports of the largest multinational companies in the food and beverage sector. They found that “most companies do not directly acknowledge plastic pollution as an issue.” And even though the sector has started to transition to sustainable packaging, Phelan et al. report that the process is inconsistent and slow – too slow to keep pace with the global increase in plastic pollution. While around half of the companies stated to support a circular economy, many focus on consumer education and plastics waste instead of aiming for systemic change by sustainable packaging strategies. According to the review, “only a quarter of the companies are addressing the following key issues: packaging design innovation, increasing effectiveness of recycling, reducing single-use plastics, managing product end-of-life processes, and driving stakeholder engagement on plastic waste topics.” Phelan and colleagues further reported that producer responsibility is growing but still insignificant despite the increasing policies on plastics (FPF reported).

The authors conclude that “proactive efforts are needed – both in research and in practice – to reduce pre-market plastic use, expand safe disposal systems in regions lacking waste management infrastructure, and accelerate responsible innovation in the plastic value chain.”

Previous reports have analyzed plastic packaging-associated risk relevant to food manufacturers and grocery retailers (FPF reported) and elaborated on the benefits of reuse over recycling (FPF reported).



Phelan, A. (2021). “Plastic pollution and packaging: Corporate commitments and actions from the food and beverage sector.Journal of Cleaner Production. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.129827