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Chemical engineer challenges Kraft Heinz over allegedly deceptive product labels: 'I'm holding them to truth and accountability'

"As a shareholder, I'm worried the company's brand value, which directly affects sales and the stock price, could be hit hard by lawsuits on false advertising."

As a shareholder, I’m worried the company’s brand value, which directly affects sales and the stock price, could be hit hard by lawsuits on false advertising.”

Photo Credit: iStock

Seeing labels on packaging that signifies it can be recycled is heartening to consumers. Knowing that you can send the discarded material to a facility to be used again later down the line is much better than expecting that product to go straight to a landfill.

But sometimes those labels aren't quite what they seem, and a Kraft Heinz investor is holding the company to account for misleading packaging.

Chemical engineer Jan Dell is calling on shareholders to vote on whether the company should change its recycling labels to more accurately reflect how customers can deal with packaging material when the food has been consumed.

The shareholder resolution is to determine whether the company should conduct a review about if the labels are "truthful" and "legal," according to Inside Climate News. Dell argues that resulting lawsuits for mislabelled packaging could cost the company millions, which could affect share prices.

Specifically, the "chasing arrows" symbol is a contentious issue. While most would assume this label means the packaging can be recycled, there are a number of materials that need to be recycled in a specific way, and the arrows may not signify how that's achievable clearly.

What's more, some packaging with the chasing arrows cannot be recycled. Kool-Aid Burst bottles, for example, are sold in shrink-wrapped plastic, which would not be accepted at most recycling centers.

"I'm holding them to truth and accountability," Dell told Inside Climate News. "As a shareholder, I'm worried the company's brand value, which directly affects sales and the stock price, could be hit hard by lawsuits on false advertising."

While Dell is challenging these particular practices, Kraft Heinz is taking steps to make its packaging more environmentally friendly.

In the United Kingdom, the company has launched a new ketchup bottle cap that can be fully recycled at appropriate plants. It's expected this small change will stop millions of bottle caps from ending up in landfills — where they would contribute to the production of potent planet-warming gases like methane and wouldn't break down naturally.

"We can't continue to do things as we have in the past," said Rashida La Lande, executive vice president, global general counsel, and chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer at Kraft Heinz. "We are investing in innovative technologies and partnerships that are critical to helping us redesign packaging, eliminate unnecessary plastic, increase our use of recycled content, and influence the adoption of reuse models."

The company's 2024 Proxy Statement and Notice of Annual Meeting also reiterated its commitment to providing customers with clear recycling information.

But in this case, Dell has criticized the multinational organization for "greenwashing their products to be recyclable when they're really not."

In a lot of cases, though, items need to be sent to dedicated facilities. If these sites aren't available, local recycling plants may simply send waste they can't treat to landfills instead, which defeats the efforts of consumers who are being responsible about their waste. Dell herself has electronically tracked items collected by store recycling schemes that have gone straight to landfills.

Single-use plastic is a significant environmental problem from creation to disposal. From the harmful chemicals in the material itself to the presence of discarded plastic in water sources, it's clear why the issue needs to be tackled. 

Thankfully, activists like Dell are keeping big businesses accountable as well as mindful of their responsibility to reduce waste. 

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