Environmental and consumer rights organisations have filed a legal complaint against Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Danone for the use of misleading claims on plastic water bottles sold across Europe.
EU consumer protection organisation Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC), supported by ClientEarth and Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), has raised an external alert to the European Commission and the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network against the three food and beverage giants for “suspected widespread infringement of consumer protection law”.
The legal complaint argues that the plastic bottles are never made wholly of recycled materials.
UK environmental charity ClientEarth says that the claims commonly found on plastic water bottles are often factually incorrect, with the group arguing that the claims – such as “100% recycled” or “100% recyclable” – suggest that bottles can simply be recycled in an infinite, circular loop.
Lawyers say these statements, often reinforced by ‘green’ imagery and generic environmental catchphrases, may mislead consumers into viewing single-use bottles as a sustainable choice.
They insist the bottles are never made wholly of recycled materials, and the ability to recycle them depends on a number of factors, including the available infrastructure.
In support of BEUC’s complaint, ClientEarth has asked for companies to stop using misleading claims that could deter consumers from making good environmental choices – such as using a refillable water bottle – and encourage food and drink giants to move away from the harmful single-use plastic business model and ‘deplastify’.
Rosa Pritchard, plastics lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “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 planet.”
FoodBev approached the companies for comment. A spokesperson from Danone said: “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).”
A spokesperson from Coca-Cola Great Britain told FoodBev: “We’re 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. Some of our packaging carries messages to drive recycling awareness, including whether our packages are recyclable and if they are made from recycled content.”
They continued: “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/returnable glass or plastic bottles, or in refillable containers used when consuming from dispensed solutions. We’re making progress to help eliminate waste, and we know more must be done. We will continue to invest to advance our ‘World Without Waste’ packaging goals.”
A Nestlé spokesperson added: “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. Nestle 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.”
If the European Commission agrees with the complaint, it can organise a coordinated response among national consumer authorities. This could involve asking the companies to rectify the situation, or imposing fines within their own borders.
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