Plastics Recycling Update

Brands boost PCR again in 2021, but use more virgin plastic

Grocery store aisle with Coca-Cola products.

Although the majority of companies continued to decrease virgin plastic use, collective use of plastic packaging increased by 4.3% from 2020 to 2021. | Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s latest report showed that major packaging companies doubled their collective PCR percentage from 2018 to 2021. However, pandemic-related commerce trends also helped accelerate virgin plastic consumption. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment 2022 report, the total PCR content percentage has doubled among signatory companies, from 4.8% in 2018 to 10.0% in 2021. In 2020, it was 8.2%. (These numbers represent the percentage of all plastic packaging that was post-consumer resin, or PCR, in the companies’ collective packaging portfolio.)

But the companies’ collective use of plastic packaging increased by 4.3% from 2020 to 2021.

“This increase has outpaced progress on recycled content, leading to a 2.5% increase in their use of virgin plastic compared to 2020, which is back to similar levels as 2018,” the report stated. 

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 had an impact, the report noted.

“Signatories that were most hit by the pandemic restrictions in 2020, such as some fashion brands and on-the-go restaurants, had significantly higher sales – and therefore increased use of plastic packaging – in 2021,” according to the study. 

Looking at individual brands shows how these trends played out in different ways.

In 2021 The Coca-Cola Company sold 3.22 million metric tons of plastic and 13.6% of that was PCR, an 8.8% increase in plastic sold over 2020, when those numbers were 2.96 million metric tons at 11.5% PCR. 

PepsiCo produced 2.5 million metric tons of plastic packaging in 2021, up from 2.35 million metric tons the year before. However, it also increased its PCR percentage from 5.0% PCR in 2020 to 6.3% in 2021. 

However, Diageo, Kellogg, McCormick & Company and Clorox all reported declines in PCR use between 2020 and 2021. 

Overall, most brands will fall short of their 2025 goals, the report concluded, and “reaching the aggregate target of 26% PCR content by 2025 will require progress to accelerate further, along an exponential growth curve.” 

The following are details on PCR usage by worldwide packaged goods companies, broken down by sector and organized from largest user of plastic packaging to smallest: 

Beverage companies

The Coca-Cola Company: 13.6% PCR in 2021, up 2.1 percentage points from 2020

PepsiCo: 6.3% PCR, up 1.3 pp

Keurig Dr Pepper: 11.0% PCR, up 9 pp

Diageo: 3.2% PCR, down 2.2 pp

Spadel: 14.6% PCR, up 9.1 pp

Molson Coors Brewing Company: 2.6% PCR, up 1.0 pp

innocent drinks: 35.3% PCR, up 2.3 pp

Pernod Ricard: 14.2% PCR, up 1.1 pp


L’Oréal: 21% in 2021, up 5.2 percentage points from 2020

Natura & Co.: 10.2%, up 3.9 pp 

(Previously reported as Natura Cosmetics) 

L’OCCITANE Group: 17.3%, up 3.9 pp

(Previously reported as L’OCCITANE en Provence) 

Food and snacks

Nestlé: 4.6% in 2021, up 0.4 percentage points from 2020

Danone: 10.6%, up 0.3 pp

Mars, Incorporated: 0%, no change

Mondelez International: 0.5%, up 0.2 pp

Ferrero: 4%, up 0.5 pp 

Kellogg Company: 0.03%, down 0.06 pp

FrieslandCampina Nederland: 2.3%, up 1.1 pp

Driscoll’s: 46.2%, up 16.2 pp 

McCormick & Company Inc.: 1.00%, down 1.49 pp

McCain Foods: 0%, no change

SOVENA: 3%, up 2.4 pp

Ferrara: 2.9%, up from 0% 

Zespri Group Limited: 11.0%, no change

Clif Bar & Company: 0%, no change

Household and personal care

Unilever: 17.6% in 2021, up 6.7 percentage points from 2020

Henkel AG & Co.: 14.3%, up 2.3 pp

Colgate-Palmolive Company: 14.2%, up 4.2 pp

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health: 1.0%, no change

The Clorox Company: 10.9%, down 0.1 pp

SC Johnson: 19.2%, up 1.3 pp

Beiersdorf: 7%, up 6 pp

Freudenberg Home and Cleaning Solutions (FHCS): 2%, up from 0%

Essity AB: 5%, up 3 pp

Werner & Mertz: 57.8%, up 3.9 pp

The report also includes others in the plastic packaging value chain, including plastic producers.

Among those who signed on to the commitment, those whose offerings included the largest percentages of PCR were Spain-based Plasticos Compuestos (10% PCR, up 3.9 percentage points from 2020), China-headquartered Kingfa Sci. & Tech. Co. (9.1%, up 1.9 pp), Thailand-based Indorama Ventures (5.8%, down 0.2 pp), Spain-headquartered NOVAPET (3%, no change) and Austria-based Borealis (1.83%, down 0.06 pp).

And over the last year, five businesses left the Global Commitment signatory group “as a result of being unwilling to fulfill mandatory requirements for participation,” the report noted: Huidu Environmental Protection Technology, METRO AG, Selfridges, Stanley Black & Decker and CarbonLITE recycling.

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