The complaint, by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), backed by environmental groups Client Earth and Environmental Coalition on Standards (Ecos), centres on claims by Coca-Cola, Danone, and Nestlé that their plastic water bottles are either 100 per cent recycled or recyclable.
In its complaint sent to the EC, BEUC warned: “We consider these environmental claims to be highly misleading and to constitute widespread infringements with an EU-wide dimension of Directive 2005/29/EC (the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive).”
It added: “These claims are vague, factually inaccurate, or otherwise not substantiated.”
In addition, it said “they contribute to slowing down the green transition by presenting plastic as a sustainable option whereas its detrimental effects on the environment have been well-documented”.
The complaint called on the EC to “start a co-ordinated enforcement action” and ask the companies to stop “misleading consumers”.
It added that “circular imagery and generic environmental claims, statements and imagery on labels and in accompanying advertising should not be permitted”.
‘Greenwashing must stop’
Consumers are “bombarded with incorrect and deceptive claims, so they do not know which claim or label to trust,” according to Ursula Pachl, BEUC deputy director-general. “Using ‘100 per cent recycled/recyclable’ claims or displaying nature images and green visuals that insinuate that plastic is environmentally friendly is misleading consumers… This greenwashing must stop,” she said.
Rosa Pritchard, plastics lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “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.”
And Justin Wilkes, executive director of ECOS, called for clear rules over recycled content to end “the Wild West of green claims”.
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Great Britain said: “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.”
They added: “We only communicate messages on our packaging that can be substantiated, with any relevant qualifications clearly displayed to enable consumers to make informed choices.”
A Nestlé spokesperson said: “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.”
A spokesperson for Danone said: “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.”
In a joint statement, trade bodies Natural Mineral Waters Europe and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe claimed the beverage sector “places great importance on clear and transparent communication towards the consumer”.
They added: “PET beverage bottle bodies are 100 per cent recyclable” but admitted: “While some products do use very high or 100 per cent rPET in their bottles, this cannot yet be achieved for every bottle.”
The statement said their members “will continue their efforts to provide easy-to-understand and useful information to consumers to help them make sustainable choices”.