Shareholders must take Pepsi and Coke to task over plastic

The companies have not faced proxy votes over recycling goals, according to Planet Tracker

A nonprofit thinktank is calling out two of the world’s biggest beverage companies over moving targets for their recycling goals.

In a recent post, Planet Tracker accuses PepsiCo and Coca-Cola of being the largest corporate plastic polluters and simultaneously setting unrealistic targets for their recycling efforts.

That does not appear to have been an area of concern for big shareholders, though the thinktank encouraged them to pay more attention to the issues.

“Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have a long history of both missing and moving their recycling targets,” Planet Tracker wrote.

The companies “are the world’s top plastic polluting brands and therefore their recycling targets deserve scrutiny. Investors should have little confidence in these goals and financial institutions should share the blame for this.”

For example, the group faulted Coca-Cola for setting a goal in 2009 for having 25% of recycled plastic in its beverage containers by 2015 and then changing that goal in 2016 to 20% by 2020. In 2018, the company announced a different goal, planning to achieve 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030, according to the report.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo in 2010 set a target for 50% beverage container recycling by 2018, which it did not achieve, the thinktank said. The company in 2018 announced a goal of having 25% recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025, and in 2019 it targeted a 35% reduction in new plastic by 2025. Last year, similar to the move by Coca-Cola, it set a goal for 50% recycled material in plastic packaging by 2030, according to the report.

Both companies have cautioned investors that they might be unable meet their recycled-content goals, Planet Tracker noted, citing reasons ranging from water scarcity to Covid and litigation.

Neither PepsiCo nor Coca-Cola responded to requests for comment by ESG Clarity.

Plastic pollution

Separately, a report last year by As You Sow on plastic pollution gave the highest grade to Coca-Cola (a B), with a high mark for its recycling goal and noting that the company was the only one the group found to publicly report the units of plastic packaging it sold.

As You Sow gave PepsiCo a D-plus overall for plastic.

The top shareholders of Coca-Cola include Berkshire-Hathaway, Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street, Wellington Management, Geode Capital Management, Fidelity and JP Morgan, according to the Planet Tracker report. Those for PepsiCo include Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street, Geode, Capital Group, Bank of America, Wellington and Northern Trust.

“For both companies, there has only ever been one proxy vote to create an environmental report. This was on a tangential proxy vote in 2019 regarding whether PepsiCo should create a report on pesticide management,” the report stated.

For the current proxy season, neither company is facing a shareholder resolution over packaging sourcing or recycling. However, both companies are facing proposals from investors over transparency and political influence, public health and independent chair positions, according to the most recent proxy materials filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.