November 24, 2020
Packaging plays a critical role in preserving the safety, nutrition and quality of the food we make. It also presents challenges in terms of raw materials used in production as well as the waste generated when improper disposal occurs. We share the global concern about the effects of plastic packaging on the environment, especially the accumulation of ocean plastic waste and associated threats to marine life.
As responsible stewards of natural resources, we aim to reduce our environmental impact across each product’s full life cycle. Several key strategies drive our work to reduce the impact of packaging production and waste.
The first is our climate ambition, through which we are working to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions occurring within our packaging supply chain, which represents 8 percent of our total value chain emissions.
The second is our commitment to sustainably source 100 percent of our fiber packaging by the end of 2020 from recycled material, from virgin wood fiber regions that do not contribute to deforestation or from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mix or better.
The third is our ambition that all of General Mills brands will design 100 percent of our packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, a critical driver in our quest to create a more circular value chain.
Finally, our target to achieve zero waste to landfill at 30 percent of our owned production facilities by 2020 and 100 percent by 2025 will reduce impacts from making and packaging our products.
For each of these commitments, we measure and report publicly on an annual basis. View our ambitions in sustainable and recyclable packaging here.
As we work toward our ambitions, there will be tradeoffs and synergies between recycling, greenhouse gas emissions, food waste, and other impacts. We will work to support the most optimal innovation recognizing this may be a multi-stage journey to be fully optimized. We will:
Pursue the best alternatives for the planet balancing food safety, plastic leakage to the environment, food waste and climate impacts
Collaborate externally with material suppliers, customers and other consumer product companies
Leverage our external and industry partnerships to support infrastructure to advance recyclability
Expand use of recycled content where feasible
Although plastics are not the primary packaging material we use, we recognize the heightened global environmental concerns related to plastic waste. For this reason, we’re taking several steps to develop more sustainable plastic packaging in key areas:
Increasing recycled and recyclable plastic materials
Currently about 88 percent of our US and 72 percent of our EUAU packaging, which includes cereal box liners, is recyclable (based on weight)
We actively seek more sustainable materials in the early phases of packaging design. For example, we launched a renewable, bio-based plastic film, partially made of plant-based materials, for Cascadian Farm cereal box liners. This change in materials replaces the impacts of about 600,000 pounds (270 metric tonnes) of non-renewable plastic annually. This bio-film increases the sustainability of raw materials, reduces the packaging carbon footprint and does not affect the recyclability of the material in any way.
We recognize the value of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic to reduce both our dependence on new plastics as well as the carbon footprint of our packaging. There are, however, unique challenges to using PCR for food packaging as food safety is the priority at every step of production. We are committed to continuing to research and develop PCR-based packaging solutions for food products. As an example, we are the first major CPG in the U.S. to commercialize partial post-consumer recycle (PCR) containing box liners for all Annie’s cereals which appeared in stores in early December 2018.
Innovating to make it easier to recycle and use recycled materials
We recognize that consumer awareness and action is essential to reducing all packaging waste. In Europe and Asia, we are increasing consumer awareness about plastic packaging recycling options through sorting instruction labeling. In the U.S., through How2Recycle and other global labeling programs, we provide consistent, consumer friendly recycling information on packages. Today, two-thirds of our products, including all U.S. cereal and applicable meal products, now include How2Recycle labels. We’re also working to make portable single serve packaging and other flexible pouches similarly recyclable.
We continually innovate to reduce packaging’s environmental impact through better design, by decreasing the amount of material used and switching to lower impact materials. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in packaging decreased 11 percent in 2019 compared to our 2010 baseline.
In the United States, Canada and Europe, paper represents over 58 percent of the packaging material used while plastic represents 15 percent, in packaging such as yogurt cups and cereal box liners. Packaging such as cereal, snack and other boxes are made from paper, a renewable resource that is widely recycled. We’re proud to use 100 percent recycled paperboard in most markets globally and we promote recycled cardboard when we can assure its safety and efficacy. In the United States, 88 percent of our packaging is recyclable by design, and recycled content represented about 47 percent of product packaging.
Leading Through External Collaboration
We are members of the Consumer Goods Forum and support their board’s action to endorse the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy (NPE) Global Commitment vision of a circular economy where no plastic ends up as waste.
We advocate for education and strong public policy solutions to increase recovery of plastics. General Mills holds leadership positions and is involved in organizations that increase awareness of sustainable packaging options. We also advocate for policy changes to increase recovery. Organizations include AMERIPEN, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the Association of Plastics Recyclers, The Recycling Partnership, Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP), Citeo, UK Plastics Pact, EU Circular Plastics Alliance, PAC NEXT and five Canadian stewardship organizations.
*According to analysis conducted by General Mills in 2019, packaging is considered recyclable if 60% or more of the U.S. population has access to recycling for the material