Coca-Cola accused of greenwashing over bottle recycling claims

The European Consumer Organisation has issued a legal complaint to the European Commission.

Coca-Cola, Nestle and Danone accused of greenwashing over bottle recycling claims iStock

Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestle have been accused of greenwashing over claims about their plastic bottles being “100% recycled”.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), backed by environmental groups Client Earth and Environmental Coalition on Standards (Ecos), has issued a legal complaint to the European Commission.

It focusses on the firms’ claims that the single-use, plastic water bottles they supply are either 100% recycled or 100% recyclable bottles.

But BEUC argues that this is misleading as the bottles are never made entirely of recycled materials.

It said the lids cannot be made from recycled materials under EU law, labels are rarely made from recycled material and adding non-recycled plastic to the body is common practice.

The organisation added that the use of green imagery or branding for many water bottles across Europe is also misleading to consumers.

It also said the term “100% recyclable” is ambiguous as since recyclability depends on many factors like available infrastructure to collect material; the effectiveness of the sorting process; or appropriate recycling processes.

BEUC filed the complaint to the Commission as well as the network of consumer protection authorities (CPC), calling on them to launch an investigation.

Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC, said: “Be it about buying new clothes, opening a bank account or buying water bottles, consumers increasingly want to make the most sustainable choice and seek reliable information to do so.

“However, they are bombarded with incorrect and deceptive claims, so they do not know which claim or label to trust.

“Using “100% recycled/recyclable” claims or displaying nature images and green visuals that insinuate that plastic is environmentally friendly is misleading consumers.

“Such claims, however, can be found on many water bottles sold across Europe. The problem is that there’s no guarantee it will be fully recycled once it’s in the bin. This greenwashing must stop.”

Justin Wilkes, executive director of Ecos, said: “Policymakers must set clear rules on recycled content that are implemented by standardised, reliable methodologies, putting an end to the Wild West of green claims.”

Rosa Pritchard, plastics Lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The reality is single-use plastic is neither circular nor sustainable.

“Recycling can never catch up with the sheer volume of plastic produced on our planet.

“Companies are in a unique position to change how we consume but currently these claims – which we consider to be misleading – are making it hard for consumers to make good environmental choices.”

A spokesperson for Danone: “At Danone, we strongly believe in the circularity of packaging and will continue to invest and lead the campaign for better collection and recycling infrastructure alongside our partners.

“We have also made real progress on our journey to reducing single use plastic and virgin plastic use in parallel (-10% in absolute since 2018).”

Coca-Cola and Nestle have been contacted for comment.

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