Danone taken to court over its plastic use

09/01/23

Alongside ClientEarth and Zero Waste France, we are taking the food giant Danone to court for its use of plastic. According to us, Danone does not respect legal obligations under French law. It is urgent that it deplastifies its activity. 


Danone, a leader of global plastic pollution

Founded in 1919, Danone, as well as being one of the world's leading companies in the food industry, is also among the most polluting ones. Singled out on several occasions by the Break Free From Plastic coalition, Danone is indeed one of the largest users of plastic packaging worldwide. 

Considering the increasing environmental, sanitary & human crises linked to plastic, deplastifying Danone cannot wait. With several different brands sold in more than 120 countries around the world, such as Volvic, Evian and Actimel, Danone's efforts to reduce plastic must be in line with the environmental and social challenges the world is facing today.

This is why we are taking legal action: following a reply to the formal notice from Danone in December 2022, which in our opinion is insufficient, we have decided to take Danone to court for non-compliance with the French Duty of Vigilance law.

It’s the first time a food company is sued in France for its plastic use, throughout its whole supply chain, based on the the 2017 French Duty of Vigilance law.


Why Danone ?

Danone’s plastic use is on the rise despite the climate emergency   

Danone’s use of plastic is increasing despite the urgency to reduce it. It is estimated that 750994 tons of plastic were produced by Danone in 2021 against 716500 tons in 2020. Furthermore, plastic pollution is increasing all over the world, affecting the environment, health and human rights. In light of this, all companies should limit their use of plastic as much as possible. In this respect, the unfortunate counter-performance of Danone goes against the efforts needed to reduce the global plastic crisis.   

This is all the more regrettable as this extraordinary use of plastic has a direct and visible consequence on the environment, especially in the most vulnerable countries. The Break Free From Plastic movement has repeatedly identified Danone as one of the main global plastic polluters. The company also distinguished itself at the national level in 2022 by becoming the #1 polluter in Indonesia, Spain and Tunisia. 

Moreover, once released into the environment, plastic has catastrophic consequences on the environment. But that is not all. From the moment it is produced, plastic contributes to environmental degradation and climate change at every stage of its life cycle through the emission of hazardous substances that contaminate the air, water and soil, as well as inducing greenhouse gas emissions.    

In addition, plastic is a major concern for human health. A study found that more than 12,000 hazardous chemicals are used in packaging and at least 148 substances associated with plastic packaging have hazardous levels of toxicity to human health. Upstream in the plastics life cycle, the extraction and refining of raw materials and the production of plastics result in hazardous emissions associated with a number of serious health problems.

Other chemicals in plastics are not intentionally added, but are present as a result of impurities, chemical reactions, contamination and chemical degradation. Microplastics in the environment, air, foods and beverages can enter the human body. It is estimated that we ingest an average of 5 grams of plastic per week. Microplastics have been found in human blood, human lungs, placenta, and breast milk. The effects of these findings are not yet known, but studies indicate that they could have different types of serious impacts on human health. The health impacts of plastics primarily affect workers who produce them or manage the waste, children and women through their vulnerability to toxic substances, and people living below the poverty line.   

As a major user of plastic and a major contributor to pollution, Danone has a key role to play in reducing the impacts of its activities. Hence why its vigilance plan should reflect its response to these risks. 




Danone's vigilance plan is unsatisfactory   

Danone is required to publish an annual vigilance plan to explain how it mitigates risks and prevents serious environmental, human and health risks arising from its activities.  Despite the risks posed by plastics to the environment and society, its 2021 Vigilance Plan does not identify the use of plastics as a major risk in its operations. By not mentioning plastic in its plan, or explaining how the company intends to mitigate the risks related to plastic, we believe that Danone is not complying with its legal obligations.


However, Danone communicates on plastic in other ways than through its vigilance plan: on its website or its annual report for example. The commitments shared in these documents by the group did not seem satisfactory to us:   

1 : "100% recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025"
Behind this commitment is a strong preference for recyclable packaging: By 2020, Danone claims to have 62% recyclable plastic and 5% reusable. The problem is that only "9% of plastic waste in the world is recycled", so improving the recyclability of packaging cannot be the only solution. The urgency would require massive investments in the transformation of packaging to more bulk and reusables. In addition, the unknown chemical content of plastics raises particular concerns for recycling. Recycled plastic, produced by melting down fragments of used plastics, is of even greater concern because plastics can absorb chemicals and contaminants during use or through contact with other wastes during the waste management process. For example, studies show that recycled plastic bottles may contain higher concentrations of chemicals. 

2 : An increase in the proportion of recycled plastic in its packaging 
Unfortunately, the incorporation of recycled plastic does not prevent a package from reaching the ocean, nor does it reduce to zero the health risks related to plastic or save the populations of southern countries from Danone’s waste waiting to be recycled. 
3 : A reduction in its use of virgin plastic   
This reduction of virgin plastic mostly hides a substitution by recycled plastic, which unfortunately does not solve the problem and does not guarantee a reduction of the total use of plastic by Danone.


A deplastification path is the only alternative given the nature of the serious and irreversible damage caused by the use of plastic on the environment, on health, but also on human safety and human rights.  

To better understand the context of this legal action, you can read our article: 9 companies put on notice for non-compliance with the duty of care related to their use of plastic.   


Specifically, what are we asking from Danone?  

In its vigilance plan, we expect from Danone a complete assessment of its plastic use. This includes mapping the impacts its use of plastics has on the environment, climate, health and human rights from production to end-of-life. Moreover, a clear assessment of its plastic footprint should be provided, including plastics used in producing the products it sells, plastics used in logistics and promotions and plastic packaging. This assessment is key in order to set up actions adapted to the reality of the field for a reduction of the risks.

We also ask for a deplastification plan based on the plastics assessment with quantified and dated objectives. This deplastification must be ambitious and specify the clear and defined means of action of Danone to achieve it. Ambitious planning and resources put in place immediately are necessary for a real commitment to plastic reduction.

We demand that Danone complies with the law on Duty of Vigilance. Danone has the power to bring about real change. There are solutions. The reuse and bulk sectors are blooming and propose better adapted solutions to adress the needs of large companies. It is high time that ambitions are correlated with concrete deplastification actions.     

Danone, deplastify now!


Sources:

Break Free From Plastic – Brand Audit Report 2022

Danone – Economie circulaire

Danone - Annual Report 2021

Danone – Financial Report 2021

Geueke, B. et al. (2022). “Systematic evidence on migrating and extractable food contact chemicals: Most chemicals detected in food contact materials are not listed for use.” Critical Reviews in Food

Health and Environment Alliance, “Turning the plastic tide: The chemicals in plastic that put our health at risk” (2020)

Journal of Hazardous Materials - Unpacking the complexity of the PET drink bottles value chain: A chemicals perspective

Nanoparticles in the Environment and Nanotoxicology - Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health

WWF - Assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people

OECD - Global Plastics Outlook database

Ellen MacArthur Foundation - Global Commitment 2021 Signatory Report 

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