The company’s recent advertising campaign claimed “single-use plastic bottles are only single-use if they are thrown away”, with ads appearing in newspapers and tube stations. However, environmental group City to Sea responded to the marketing by complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), claiming the adverts were 'misleading'. It claimed Coca-Cola packaging often contributed to food and drink packaging waste, despite being billed as eco-friendly.
However, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said City to Sea had misunderstood the message of the campaign: "We don’t want to see any of our bottles end up where they shouldn’t and we’re working to make them as sustainable as possible by doubling the amount of recycled plastic they are made from and ensuring all of them are recovered and recycled. That’s why we support the introduction of a well-designed deposit scheme in Great Britain, but this is going to take some time to set up.
"In terms of what can be done now to make a difference, it’s important that more of us recycle plastic drinks bottles and the campaign we ran recently was designed to make clear to people that all of our bottles can and should be recycled so that the plastic in them can be used to make a new bottle.
"The PET [polyethylene terephthalate] plastic in our bottles is a high-grade plastic, which is straightforward to recycle and use again. But for the plastic in our bottles to have more than one use the essential first step is for the bottle to be put in a recycling bin. That’s what the advert was encouraging consumers to do - and so prevent the bottle being single use.”
Rebecca Burgess, City to Sea's chief executive officer, said: "This year, Coca-Cola have taken a new tack when it comes to their marketing – tapping into public concern on single-use plastic by redefining the word to sell their products; misleading customers and setting a dangerous precedent in the industry.
"Whilst we welcome the news that their bottles can now be recycled, we know that, in reality, many are not. Plastic bottles are consistently the most polluting items on our beaches and rivers and Coca-Cola is the worst offender. We had no choice but to report these misleading claims to the ASA and we are encouraging others to do the same.”
'Comprehensive refill system'
City to Sea's campaigns manager Steve Hynd added: "Just because a product can be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it’s no longer single-use. If Coca-Cola want to ensure their bottles are not single-use, we would love for them to introduce a comprehensive refill system, where the same item is cleaned and reused multiple times.”
City to Sea has called for Coca-Cola to withdraw its ads, including on online platforms, and tackle the use of single-use plastic bottles by shifting towards a comprehensive refill scheme. It also wants the Government to introduce legislation to phase out the use of all but the most essential single-use plastics and to introduce a deposit scheme to ensure far more bottles are refilled – or, failing that, recycled.
The group lodged its complaint on 10 December, but the ASA has yet to deliver its opinion on it.