Coca-Cola, Danone, and Nestlé have been accused of greenwashing by a consumer body and two environmental groups. The groups allege that the companies are misleading consumers with claims about their water bottles being “100% recycled”.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), backed by the environmental groups ClientEarth and ECOS, has filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that the companies’ claims about their water bottles being “100% recycled” or “100% recyclable” are misleading.
The groups argue that the bottles are ‘never entirely from recycled plastic’ and that the ability to recycle them depends on a number of factors, including the available infrastructure.
“The evidence is clear – plastic water bottles are simply not recycled again and again to become new bottles in Europe,” said Rosa Pritchard, plastics lawyer at ClientEarth. “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 planet.”
In the European Union, only about half of all plastic bottles are recycled, with an even smaller fraction – around 30% – finding their way into new bottles. The rest is diverted into products like textiles, which are often unrecyclable and more likely to end up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to pollution and climate change.
According to the letter, these claims also overlook the fact that plastic water bottles contain components, such as lids and labels, that are not made from recycled plastic and are less likely to be effectively recycled. Additionally, virgin plastic may be added during the manufacturing process, further diluting the recycled content.
In response to the complaint, Coca-Cola said it was “working to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use, and we’re investing to collect and recycle the equivalent of the packaging we use.”
“We only communicate messages on our packaging that can be substantiated, with any relevant qualifications clearly displayed to enable consumers to make informed choices,” it said.
“Some of our packaging carries messages to drive recycling awareness, including whether our packages are recyclable and if they are made from recycled content.”
Danone also denied the allegations, saying it is “committed to the circularity of packaging” and is “investing in better collection and recycling infrastructure.”
Nestlé has yet to comment on the complaint.
If the European Commission agrees with the complaint, it can organise a co-ordinated response among national consumer authorities, who can then take action.
This could involve asking the companies to rectify the situation, or imposing fines within their own borders. The commission does not have the power to impose penalties of its own.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic that is used to mislead consumers into thinking that a company or product is more environmentally friendly than it really is.
Companies often use green imagery, language, and certifications to make their products appear more sustainable.
How can you avoid greenwashing?
Greenwashing can severely damage a business’s reputation. While some instances of greenwashing may be intentional attempts to deceive, others may stem from poorly crafted communication strategies.
To safeguard your business from greenwashing accusations, it’s crucial to avoid vague sustainability claims, embrace transparency, and maintain consistency in your messaging.
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