Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé Waters/Nestlé were named in the report, which was carried out together with non-profit ClientEarth and non-governmental organisation Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS). The BEUC acts as the umbrella group in Brussels for 45 independent national consumer organisations.
The three claims identified as “of concern” included ‘100% recyclable’, “100% recycled” and the use of green imagery. The first was said to be ambiguous, with the BEUC claiming that “the recycling rate for PET beverage bottle bodies is estimated to be only 55% in the EU”.
The ‘100% recycled’ claim has been disputed on the basis that “that bottle lids cannot be made of recycled materials by EU law”, while the BEUC said that the use of green imagery gives off the “false idea of environmental neutrality”.
A complaint has been filed to the European Commission and the network of consumer protection authorities (CPC), with the BEUC and its partners calling for an investigation to be launched.
“Using 100% recycled/recyclable claims or displaying nature images and green visuals that insinuate that plastic is environmentally friendly is misleading consumers,” argued deputy director general of the BEUC Ursula Pachl.
“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."
Bottled water producers respond
The Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE) and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe issued a joint statement in response to the complaint being filed. Danone and Nestlé Waters/Nestlé are both members of the NMWE, while Coca-Cola is a member of UNESDA.
“As a result of our members’ sustained investment in eco-design, such as establishing the European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) with the packaging value chain to promote PET bottle design for recycling, PET beverage bottle bodies are 100% recyclable,” the statement read.
“PET is the most recycled plastic packaging material in Europe thanks to our sector’s funding of separate collection, sorting and recycling systems for our bottles, whether through Extended Responsibility Schemes (EPR) or Deposit and Return Systems (DRS).”
The statement added that recycled PET (rPET), is recognised under EU law as having an environmental benefit, however, the ability of producers to use rPET depends on the level of availability and access to high-quality recycled material.
“Whilst some products do use very high or 100% rPET in their bottles, this cannot yet be achieved for every bottle,” it continued.
“Unfortunately, collection rates for beverage packaging at EU level are stagnating below 60% and the PET from recycled bottles is often downcycled into other applications. When diving into the national figures we do see that countries with DRS have much higher performance rates of collection and recycling, most surpassing mandatory EU targets.
“We see the current revision of the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation as an opportunity to overcome these challenges at EU level. This is why we are advocating for a wider rollout of well-designed DRS as the proven most effective pathway to high rates of separate collection for recycling. We are also calling for a priority access right to our recycled material to ensure a stable supply that enables us to reach ambitious recycled content targets.”
Drinks manufacturers respond
In addition to the industry-wide statement, Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé all provided Food Manufacture with the following responses.
A Coca-Cola Company spokesperson said: “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.”
“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,” a Danone spokesperson added.
“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).”
Meanwhile, a Nestle spokesperson told us: “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.”