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To help solve this planetary crisis, Nestlé pledged Tuesday to make all its plastic packaging 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2025. The Swiss food giant envisions a world where "none of its packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter," it said.
"Plastic waste is one of the biggest sustainability issues the world is facing today. Tackling it requires a collective approach," Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said in a statement.
Nestlé joins a number of major international corporations, such as rival Unilever, making similar commitments.
However, environmentalists say the move is not enough. As the world's largest food and beverage company, Nestlé's wide expanse of products—which includes bottled water, chocolate candy bars and instant coffee pods—"helped to create" this plastic pollution problem in the first place, according to a fiery response from Greenpeace.
In a statement provided to EcoWatch, Greenpeace criticized Nestlé's statement for not including clear targets or a timeline to reduce and eventually phase out single-use plastics.
"Nestlé's statement on plastic packaging includes more of the same greenwashing baby steps to tackle a crisis it helped to create," Greenpeace oceans campaigner Graham Forbes said. "It will not actually move the needle toward the reduction of single-use plastics in a meaningful way, and sets an incredibly low standard as the largest food and beverage company in the world. The statement is full of ambiguous or nonexistent targets, relies on 'ambitions' to do better, and puts the responsibility on consumers rather than the company to clean up its own plastic pollution."
During a 2017 beach clean-up on Freedom Island in the Philippines, the third worst polluter of the world's oceans, Greenpeace volunteers and coalition partners found more discarded Nestlé products than any other brand.
Greenpeace's Forbes said Nestlé has the power and resources to phase out single-use plastics and move towards zero-waste in its packaging.
"A company of Nestlé's size should be setting a strong standard to actually move away from throwaway plastics," Forbes said. "It should know by now that recycling efforts are not going to clean up our oceans, waterways and communities. On the contrary, the company's business as usual will only accelerate plastic pollution."
Nestlé's new initiative focuses on three core areas: eliminate non-recyclable plastics; encourage the use of plastics that allow better recycling rates; and eliminate or change complex combinations of packaging materials.
"We are working on changing the colors used for our plastic packaging. Lighter colors are easier to recycle," Nestlé sustainability expert Duncan Pollard told reporters, as quoted by CNBC.
Pollard said the recycling of single-use plastics depends on there being recycling infrastructure in place, particularly in Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
Nestlé was in the center of controversy last week after the state of Michigan granted its bottled water subsidiary a permit to increase groundwater withdrawal from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute from its White Pine Springs well.
The approval was despite near universal opposition from residents—81,862 comments against the permit versus 75 in favor—who cited Nestlé's nominal $200-a-year fee to pump water from its wells. The fee will not change with the new permit.
Nestlé's White Pine Springs well also happens to lie approximately 120 miles from the lead-poisoned city of Flint. Bottled water companies have drawn outrage from many communities for privatizing their public water supply in the face of Flint's years-long drinking water crisis, where some residents have been billed hundreds of dollars for water they cannot drink.
On top of that, the Michigan government declared on Friday that Flint's drinking water was now safe and announced it would stop providing free bottled water to the city's residents.
Detroit journalist and Flint water crisis writer Anna Clark remarked that it was "not lost" on Flint locals that the state's decision came just days after Nestlé "won the right to pump more Michigan water for free."