OAKLAND, CA: Food and drinks brands have been slammed for their poor approach to packaging sustainability and accused of wasting $11.4bn of materials every year according to a new report.

Waste and Opportunity 2015, from non-profit advocacy organisations As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council, analysed the packaging practices of 47 fast food chains, beverage companies, and consumer goods and grocery companies, highlighting leaders and laggards in these sectors.

Not one of the companies surveyed earned a 'best practice' accolade, with all failing to adequately recover materials and protect the world's oceans.

But the "rank-'em-and-spank-'em" study did allow that some were doing better than others: Starbucks, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Nestle Waters NA, New Belgium Brewing, and PepsiCo all emerged as relative leaders in their business sectors, taking proactive steps to recycle, use recycled content, or generate less waste.

A particular concern the report highlighted is the rapid growth in use of flexible plastic pouch packaging, such as that used in Kraft's Capri-Sun product, which is not recyclable. Products which were once sold in recyclable packaging – from dried fruit to detergent to dog food – are shifting to these "monstrous hybrids" which can only be sent to landfill.

And quick-service restaurants were also fingered for their contribution to plastic pollution in the oceans, as litter from takeout orders, including cups, plates, cutlery, and straws, are often swept into waterways and beyond to partially degrade and harm marine life.

Plastics had by far the worse recovery rates in the US, with just 13.8% being recycled compared to 34.1% for glass, 38% for aluminium, 72.2% for steel and 76.1% for paper and paperboard.

"Brand leadership is sorely lacking," said Conrad McKerron, a senior vice president of As You Sow and a report author, at a news conference releasing the report. 

"This all comes down to responsibility. Brands will tell us, 'we're not in the waste business.' We think that, in the future, this is a part of corporate stewardship that needs to happen."

Data sourced from As You Sow, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff