PET greenwashing row: Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé face legal action over recyclability claims
13 Nov 2023 — The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), backed by environmental groups Client Earth and Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), has taken action against major water bottle producers, such as Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé Waters/Nestlé, for alleged greenwashing.
Consumer groups from 13 countries have submitted an external alert to the European network of consumer authorities (CPC-Network) demonstrating that claims of “100% recycled” or “100% recyclable” on plastic water bottles can be misleading.
The legal action follows the publication of a report by ECOS and Client Earth, which found evidence that recyclability and PCR content claims are only partially valid for most plastic bottles, and scientific methodologies like LCAs are usually flawed.
“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,” says Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC.
“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.”
The organizations have identified three key claims of concern: “100% recyclable,” “100% recycled” and the “use of green imagery.”Consumer protection
The beverage industry — represented by Natural Mineral Waters and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe — has responded to the legal action undertaken by BEUC and others by saying that the “beverage sector is a pioneer in packaging circularity and places great importance on clear and transparent communication toward the consumer.”
But BEUC says the beverage industry “resorts to recyclability claims that according to our research are too vague, inaccurate or insufficiently substantiated.” The organizations have identified three key claims of concern: “100% recyclable,” “100% recycled” and the “use of green imagery.”
“The evidence is clear — plastic water bottles are simply not recycled again and again to become new bottles in Europe. A ‘100%’ recycling rate for bottles is technically not possible and, just because bottles are made with recycled plastic, does not mean they don’t harm people and the planet,” comments Rosa Pritchard, ClientEarth’s plastics lawyer.
“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.”
In filing the complaint, Client Earth and BEUC are hoping that policymakers will bring forward new green claims requirements to regulate on-pack messaging. In September, the EU published a new directive, “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition,” to strengthen consumer protection by banning misleading advertising. Client Earth and BEUC are hoping that policymakers will bring forward new green claims requirements to regulate on-pack messaging.
A spokesperson from The Coca-Cola Company tells Packaging Insights: “We only communicate messages on our packaging that can be substantiated, with any relevant qualifications clearly displayed to enable consumers to make informed choices. Some of our packaging carries messages to drive recycling awareness, including whether our packages are recyclable and if they are made from recycled content.”
“We have an ambitious goal to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030, and we support well-designed deposit return schemes across Europe, which we know can help us get our packaging back. We also aim to have 25% of all our volume sold globally in refillable or returnable glass or plastic bottles or in refillable containers used when consuming from dispensed solutions.”
Meanwhile, a Nestlé spokesperson tells us: “We work hard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use, to lead investments and support packaging circularity alongside partners and to communicate clearly with consumers who want to make informed choices. Nestlé has reduced its amount of virgin plastic packaging by 10.5% since 2018, and we are on track to get to one-third less virgin plastic by the end of 2025.”
A spokesperson from Danone also responded to the legal action by saying, “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 made real progress in reducing single-use plastic and virgin plastic use in parallel (-10% in absolute since 2018).”
By Radhika Sikaria
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