Press release: 28 September 2023

One year on: Nestlé, Danone and others yet to make adequate progress on plastic pollution

  • Nine Big Food corporations served notice last year are still failing to tackle plastic pollution.
  • New report analyses how the companies are living up to their duties under the French ‘Duty of Vigilance’ law.
  • None of the companies have a clear ‘deplastification’ trajectory for moving away from the single-use plastic business model.

Nine major European ‘Big Food’ companies are failing to make sufficient efforts to ‘deplastify’ and reduce their use of plastic at source, a new report suggests – one year after environmental organisations put them on notice.

Last year, ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France served legal notice to nine food companies for failing to manage the plastic pollution stemming from their business models.

Today, our partner NGOs Surfrider Europe and Zero Waste France have measured their progress in a new report. Findings suggest that there may have been a shift in industry mindset, as the companies are now more aware of the risks associated with plastic and recognise the need to ‘deplastify’. However, concrete action is still falling far short of what is needed.

The French ‘Duty of Vigilance’ law requires companies to assess and mitigate the impacts their operations have on the environment and human rights by publishing a ‘vigilance plan’. The new report analyses how these companies – including household names like Nestlé and Danone – are managing to live up to their duties under this law.

Among the nine companies we put on notice – Nestlé France, Danone, McDonalds France, Carrefour, Groupe Casino, Les Mousquetaires, Auchan, and Picard, there continues to be a distinct reliance on single-use plastic. There is also a continued focus on strategies with limited impact, such as recycling. None of the companies have published a clear deplastification trajectory that outlines how they will transition their business model away from single-use plastic.

Some companies - such as Nestlé France and McDonalds France - have not even published a vigilance plan, with the latter arguing that the law does not apply to them.

Throughout its lifecycle, plastic has a seriously negative impact on the environment, human health and human rights - yet production is expected to triple by 2060. Plastic pollution is harming crucial marine ecosystems, contaminating our soils, generating significant greenhouse gas emissions and even putting human health at risk through exposure to microplastics and toxic chemicals– which have even been discovered in human lungs.

ClientEarth – who provided legal expertise to Surfrider Europe and Zero Waste France, the authors this report – will continue to push the companies that we put on notice to take responsibility for the role they play in driving this crisis.

ClientEarth Plastics Lawyer, Rosa Pritchard said: “Plastic pollution is showing no signs of slowing and the nine companies we put on notice are at the frontlines of the crisis. Our planet is inundated by plastic, and while it is refreshing to see that some companies are beginning to recognise the gravity of the risks, we need them to take real action to change their business models.

“As it stands, these Big Food corporations seem to continue to rely on recycling as a solution to their plastic waste problem, playing an endless game of catch up that they can never win.

“In reality, only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled, the process of recycling plastic remains fraught with problems, many of which are not realistically surmountable.

“We want to see these French business leaders show real ambition on tackling plastic pollution, by producing an assessment of their plastic use across the value chain, pulling together a deplastification plan and – most importantly - acting on it.”


Notes to editors:

You can find the report in full here.

The new report was authored by Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste France. ClientEarth provided legal analysis to assist in the assessment of how the companies we put on notice for failing to adhere to the French Duty of Vigilance law are progressing.

We shared our findings with the companies in question and received responses from Lactalis and Casino. You can find their responses here.

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.

French law requires those alleging breach to put the potential defendant companies on notice through a formal letter setting out the law and details of the alleged breach. The companies have a period of three months to respond. If they fail to respond – or those alleging the breach deem the response to be inadequate – a formal demand can be filed in the French civil court (Tribunal judiciaire de Paris) for an injunction, ordering the company to produce a vigilance plan that conforms with the law.

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

Each company should:

1. Produce a complete assessment of its use of plastic, encompassing all its activities throughout the value chain

2. On the basis of this assessment, put together a ‘deplastification’ plan with quantified and dated objectives and act on it.

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.