Plastic pollution and packaging: Corporate commitments and actions from the food and beverage sector

Published March 2022 by Dr Anya Phelan

Anna (Anya) Phelan, Katie Meissner, Jacquelyn Humphrey, Helen Ross (2022), “Plastic pollution and packaging: Corporate commitments and actions from the food and beverage sector”, Journal of Cleaner Production

With the production of virgin plastic expected to double within the next 15 years, plastic pollution is an escalating environmental problem which threatens the global health of people and nature. As a major user of single-use plastic, the food and beverage (F&B) sector plays a vital role in the transition to sustainable packaging solutions; however, there is little knowledge of the uptake of sustainability initiatives that address plastic pollution. This research examines the corporate sustainability (CS) reports of consumer-packaged goods companies in the F&B sector to understand how they manage plastic pollution, what strategies they present, and how they address producer responsibility.

“Producer responsibility is critical to addressing the plastic pollution challenge, especially in helping low-resourced remote communities in the developing world cope with the ever-mounting quantities of plastic waste.”

Key findings

  • The findings highlight that transition to sustainable packaging is underway; however, the pace of this transition is slow and often inconsistent
  • The majority of CS reports do not acknowledge plastic pollution as an issue, often avoiding the use of terms such as ‘waste’ and ‘pollution’
  • While half of companies make strong statements supporting the need to work with stakeholders to reduce plastic waste, solutions still focus on recycling and other end-of-life solutions rather than systemic change
  • Despite growing acknowledgement of producer responsibility, action on reducing plastic waste is limited, particularly in regions with lower waste management capacity

“Our analysis shows that most F&B companies do not include plastic pollution as part of their sustainability agenda. If global plastic pollution is to be addressed, strong leadership from the F&B sector in the transition to sustainable packaging is paramount.”


Rather than setting reduction targets, companies need to move from making commitments to taking concrete actions on eradicating plastic waste. Reducing plastic waste requires systemic changes, radical innovation, and producers to take greater responsibility for plastic waste. Producer responsibility is particularly limited in developing markets where waste infrastructure is not widely available. Companies that sell single-use plastics to these regions have a responsibility to limit the impacts of their products on these communities and provide solutions for the management of plastic waste.

“Despite emerging policies on plastic, producer responsibility remains miniscule. Based on these findings, to improve sustainability performance, 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.”

Contact Dr Anya Phelan to learn more about the research.

Learn more about the Business Sustainability Initiative.