Press release: 9 January 2023

Danone to face French court over plastic megapollution

Three environmental groups are filing a lawsuit against Danone over its global plastic pollution.

ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France have filed the lawsuit against the French company, whose annual sales top more than £24bn euros, in the Paris Tribunal Judiciaire – the equivalent of the UK High Court.

The French ‘Duty of Vigilance’ law demands that companies over a certain size assess and prevent the impacts their operations have on the environment and human rights, via a ‘vigilance plan’.

The groups argue that Danone is not doing enough to reduce its plastic footprint – failing to live up to its duties under the law. Back in September, the groups had formally put Danone on notice, giving the company the opportunity to rectify its ‘vigilance plan’. The company replied to the formal notice letter, but the three NGOs argue the response was insufficient and did not adequately address their demands.

Danone’s ‘vigilance plan’ is completely silent on plastics. Yet the company is amongst the top 10 biggest plastic polluters globally. In 2021, Danone used more than 750,000 tonnes of plastics for its packaging – the equivalent of almost 75 Eiffel towers – which is even more than it did in 2020.

Plastics are present throughout its value chain, with a huge amount used to package its products, including water bottles and yoghurt pots.

Danone owns well-known brands such as Evian, Volvic and Activia. The company is truly global, with its products available in more than 120 countries.

It also has a large presence in countries which are on the receiving end of the Western world’s plastic excesses, putting further strain on their waste management facilities, such as Tunisia, Turkey and Indonesia. Danone has topped the plastic polluter ranking in Indonesia for the last three years.

ClientEarth plastics lawyer Rosa Pritchard said: “Danone is trudging ahead without a serious plan to deal with plastics, despite clear concern from climate and health experts and consumers, and a legal obligation to face up to the issue.

“It continues to rely on single-use plastic packaging in the hopes that recycling will miraculously deal with the flood of plastics it puts on the market. But recycling is a limited solution as only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled. It’s unrealistic for food giants like Danone to pretend recycling is the silver bullet.

“It’s 2023 and high time Danone started implementing proper solutions such as refill and reuse beyond a few pilots to give consumers real access to a sustainable model. It needs to deplastify now.”

Solutions for reducing plastic in the food sector include eliminating unnecessary packaging, rethinking product design and shifting to reusable/refillable packaging models.

Pritchard added: “The momentum around plastics litigation has been building fast – and it’s only the beginning. Companies across the plastics value chain, from fossil fuels companies to consumer goods giants and waste management companies, should be on high alert.”

The next steps in the court case will be determined by a judge in an initial hearing in the next couple of months.


Notes to editors:

How does the Duty of Vigilance law work?

Under this groundbreaking French law, adopted in 2017, large companies with more than 5,000 employees in France, or 10,000 employees in France and their foreign subsidiaries, must publish an annual vigilance plan identifying the environmental and social risks stemming from their activities and those of their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors. These plans must include mitigation and prevention measures adapted to the severity of these risks, as well as a report on the implementation of these measures.

What are Surfrider Foundation Europe, Zero Waste France and ClientEarth asking for?

Danone should:

  1. Map the impacts its use of plastics has on the environment, climate, health and human rights from production to end-of-life.
  2. Provide a complete assessment of its plastic footprint, including plastics used in producing the products it sells, plastics used in logistics and promotions and plastic packaging.
  3. On the basis of this assessment, put together a ‘deplastification’ plan with quantified and dated objectives and act on it.

What are the impacts of plastics?

  • Single-use plastics create huge amounts of waste. If all the plastic waste generated in 2020 alone were melted down, it could pave a 30-foot-wide road to the moon. Plastic pollution is now the biggest killer of marine life. And even when disposed of properly, getting rid of plastic is not so simple.
  • Plastics are made from oil and gas. The process of extracting these fossil fuels and converting them into plastic is also highly carbon-intensive. Plastic production facilities also produce toxic air emissions, affecting neighbouring communities.
  • Plastic packaging can also contain chemicals that are known to be harmful to our health, including endocrine disruptors, which can have serious consequences for fertility. Of the 10,500 chemical substances that can be found in plastics, almost a quarter are of potential concern for human health and have been linked to diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer and other illnesses.
  • Throughout its lifecycle, plastics poses a threat to human rights. This could be related to the toxicity of production, use and plastic waste, and that in many countries, waste management systems depend on informal workers, working in dangerous conditions without basic labour rights. Already marginalised groups face the biggest burden.

The limits of recycling

Danone’s efforts have not focused on reducing its dependence on single-use packaging but rather improving the ‘recyclability’ of its packaging and adding more recycled content. A recent article from Deutsche Welle found that Danone has repeatedly failed to meet previous promises to include more recycled content in its plastic packaging.

Besides, such policies cannot address the full spectrum of harms caused by plastics. Only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled. Studies have shown that even the most ambitious improvements to recycling infrastructure will still entail an increase in plastic waste entering the ocean unless we simultaneously reduce our consumption of plastics.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

About Surfrider Foundation Europe

Surfrider Foundation Europe is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to protect and showcase the importance of lakes, rivers, the ocean, waves, and coastlines. It currently has over 18,000 members and is active across 12 countries through its volunteer-run branches.

For more than 30 years, Surfrider Foundation Europe has been taking action as a recognized authority in three areas of expertise: marine litter, water quality and public health, coastal management and climate change.

About Zero Waste France

Zero Waste France is a citizen organisation, created in 1997, that campaigns for waste reduction and better resource management.