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Investors call for DuPont to report on plastic pollution

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WILMINGTON – DuPont shareholders overrode the wishes of company executives this spring by supporting a resolution that calls for the company to publicly report data on plastic pollution.

The measure, introduced by the nonprofit advocacy group As You Sow amid a time when so-called ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance] causes are being directed at Wall Street, was supported by 81.2% of investors. It calls for DuPont to publicly report on spills of plastic pellets into the environment.

DuPont joins a slew of other companies who have agreed to disclose information about environmental plastic contaminations. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“DuPont is committed to transparent reporting on sustainability and environmental matters, and annually issues a Sustainability Report,” the company said in an emailed statement regarding the shareholder vote. “We are taking action at our facilities to avoid pellet spills, increase plastic recycling, and prevent plastic waste from entering the environment. The DuPont Board will review the results of the vote on the proposal and will determine the appropriate next steps with respect to reporting.”

Plastic pellets, also known in manufacturing industry parlance as nurdles, are the building blocks of most plastic products. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic pellets can be found throughout the world’s oceans and habitats, and have been polluting the environment since at least the 1970s. An estimated 8 million to 11 million tons of plastics enter the oceans every year, according to environmental advocacy groups, where they can absorb toxins and end up in the stomachs of marine wildlife.

The overwhelming support from DuPont investors may be marking a shift in the priorities of corporate responsibility: namely that accountability to communities and the environment is becoming just as important as bottom-line profits. The approved resolution linked the financial and environmental costs of plastics pollution to the need for more public reporting, urging stakeholders to consider the costs associated with ignoring the problem of plastics pollution.

“I think investors understand the way we’ve been handling materials and plastics, especially, is so unsustainable,” said Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator at As You Sow, a California-based nonprofit that engages in such shareholder activism. “The science is just continuing to make this issue more apparent, and I think corporations like DuPont need to not only do the bare minimum.”

DuPont now joins Chevron Phillips Chemical, Exxon Mobil Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Westlake Chemical, Occidental Petroleum, and Dow Chemical in agreeing to report on spills. So far, only three companies — Chevron Phillips Chemical, Exxon, and Dow — have started reporting, but have only revealed limited information about pollution incidents.

The majority support of the resolution approved by DuPont investors marks “the highest vote ever for a shareholder resolution on an environmental issue that was opposed by management,” according to Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, which tracks shareholder votes. 

The resolution itself is non-binding, meaning DuPont could ignore its request, although many companies choose not to ignore their shareholders’ concerns. The resolution calls for companies to self-report spills and include in the report “a discussion of loss prevention, cleanup and containment for all relevant categories of plastic materials released, regardless of whether they are pellets, powder, flake, granules, or other particles.” 

Reporting is just the first step toward true corporate responsibility, McBee said. The idea is that this resolution will pave the way to more concrete actions, such as universal best practices and certifications for pellet handling, she said.

“I think this is the beginning of something we’ve been fighting for for a really long time: that companies take responsibility for their waste,” McBee said.

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