Dutch consumer watchdog Consumentenbond has joined European consumer organisation Beuc and other groups from 12 EU countries in a legal complaint against food and drink giants Coca Cola, Danone and Nestlé for misleading claims about recycling plastic bottles.
The groups on Tuesday filed a case to the European Commission and consumer protection authorities’ network CPC calling for an investigation into claims that plastic water bottles sold across Europe are ‘100% recyclable’ or ‘100% recycled’.
They also denounced the use of images suggesting that plastic bottles have no impact on the environment. The groups argue such claims are “factually incorrect” and do not comply with EU rules as they mislead consumers.
The recycling rate for PET plastic bottles is estimated to be 55% across the EU and the likelihood of it becoming a bottle again is around 30%, the groups say. The claims also do not consider that virgin materials can be added during manufacturing and parts of a plastic water bottle, such as lids and labels, cannot be made from recycled plastic.
Drinks bottles are one of the top sources of plastic pollution on European beaches, the organisations noted and in October Dutch government inspectors said that the private sector is not doing enough to make sure more plastic bottles are collected.
“Using 100% recycled or 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 bottles sold across Europe. The problem is that there’s no guarantee it will be fully recycled once it’s in the bin,” said Beuc deputy director Ursula Pachl.
A spokesman for Coca Cola said the company only put messages on packaging that can be substantiated. “Some of our packaging carries messages to drive recycling awareness, including whether our packages are recyclable and if they are made from recycled content,” the spokesman said.
Consumer groups hope the national authorities, which are responsible for the enforcement of EU law on consumer protection, will take action.
The Dutch consumer authority ACM has previously acted on misleading green claims from airlines and clothing brands. In August, it also launched a wider campaign to make sure companies stop claiming to be more sustainable than they are.
The EU is currently passing a series of measures to crack down on misleading definitions about ‘sustainable’ products and services.
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