Bottled drinks producers mislead consumers with greenwashing, claims industry body

The European Consumer Organisation BEUC has filed a complaint with the European Commission and the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC), accusing producers of bottled drinks of making misleading claims about their green credentials.

The complaint, which was also signed by member organisations from 13 countries, specifically names companies including Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé Waters/Nestlé. It argues that claims made by these companies, such as that their bottles are “100 per cent recyclable” or “100 per cent recycled” do not comply with the EU rules on unfair commercial practices.

The complaint also flags the use of green imagery, such as “closed loops, green logos or nature images” which “prompt the false idea of environmental neutrality, endless plastic circularity and may even give the impression that the bottles would have a positive impact on the environment.”

In a press release, BEUC said that average European consumer drinks around 118 litres of bottled water per year and 97 per cent of this water is packaged in plastic containers. It added that beverage bottles are one of the top sources of plastic pollution on European beaches.

“The beverage industry resorts to recyclability claims that according to our research are too vague, inaccurate or/and insufficiently substantiated,” it said.

Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC, said: “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.

“Using “100 per cent 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."

Responding to the complaint, industry groups Natural Mineral Waters Europe and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe said that the beverage sector values clear communication and that it is at the forefront of pioneering recyclable packaging.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Great Britain meanwhile said: "We only communicate messages on our packaging that can be substantiated.”

The European Commission said that national authorities would look into the complaint and consult on possible action.

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