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Sonoco Products Company – Sustainable Plastic Packaging (2020)

Sonoco Products Company – Sustainable Plastic Packaging (2020)

Outcome: Pending

Whereas: Plastic pollution has become a pressing, unavoidable global problem. On a global basis, experts estimate that 8 to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean from land sources each year and this discharge is growing rapidly . According to EPA data for 2015, 34.5 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the U.S. and only nine percent was recycled; seventy five percent was sent to landfill. Experts estimate that 300,000 metric tonnes of plastic are polluted to the ocean from U.S. land sources every year – the equivalent of 65 dump trucks/day.

Plastic waste breaks down and persists in the environment, eventually accumulating in agricultural soils, water supplies, food supplies, and the human body – with as yet unknown health repercussions.

Six of the top nine global plastic packaging producers (Amcor, Sealed Air, ALPLA Group, Aptargroup, Berry Global, RPC Group) have committed to ensure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable in practice by 2025, through a prominent global multi-stakeholder initiative working to keep plastic material out of landfills and the environment.

Sonoco Products CEO Rob Tiede states, “solving this issue [plastic pollution] will require a collaborative approach by key stakeholders, including policy makers, consumers, the industry and communities.” Unfortunately, Sonoco, which is a plastic packaging manufacturer and one of the world’s largest recyclers, has not disclosed how it works with other industry players to address the plastic pollution issue.

Restrictions on single-use plastics were implemented in 150 countries and approximately 350 U.S. municipalities heading into 2019. However, aggressive lobbying and threats of lawsuits by industry trade associations has helped prevent even more laws from taking effect, such as bottle bills or extended producer responsibility type legislation. Sonoco has not discussed if, or how, it participates in legislative processes, either directly or through its trade association memberships.

Given its scale and expertise, proponents believe Sonoco is uniquely suited and has a responsibility to work collaboratively on solutions to reduce plastic pollution and strengthen plastic recycling in the United States.

Resolved: Shareholders request the Board of Directors of Sonoco Products issue a report, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, discussing how it can increase the scale and pace of its efforts to constructively support public policy and industry solutions to address the environmental problems caused by plastic pollution.

Supporting Statement: In the report, shareholders seek information, among other issues at board and management discretion, on the relative benefits and drawbacks of integrating the following actions:
• Efforts to work with other companies to further design products and facilities to recycle materials that are often landfilled;
• How Sonoco works with policymakers and communities to support recycling infrastructure and legislation, either directly or via trade associations;
• A discussion of related R&D expenditures and initiatives.

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