EUROPE – Leading beverage giants, Coca-Cola HBC, Nestle, and Danone have been accused of making misleading commercial claims about the recyclability of their water bottles, a practice commonly referred to as Greenwashing. 

The accusations against the three multinationals were made by the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC), Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), and the environmental non-profit ClientEarth.

The Environmental groups have filed a legal complaint against the three before the European Commission and the EU’s consumer protection authorities (CPC).

The complaint revolves around “misleading commercial claims about the recyclability of their products”.

 The key points of concern pointed out by BEUC were the terms “100% recyclable” and “100% recycled”, as well as the use of green imagery which prompts “the false idea of environmental neutrality”.

According to a report by the organizations, the claims commonly found on plastic water bottles are often factually incorrect, arguing that they suggest that water bottles can simply be recycled in an infinite loop.

Lawyers argue these statements, often reinforced by ‘green imagery’ and generic environmental catchphrases, may mislead consumers into viewing single-use bottles as a ‘sustainable choice.’

“There is no such thing as truly circular plastic and that recycling – even though less harmful than other methods of waste disposal – cannot solve the escalating plastics crisis,” BEUC argued.

It noted that the recycling process continuously degrades the properties of plastic, making ‘infinite’ recycling impossible.

“The evidence is clear – plastic water bottles are simply not recycled again and again to become new bottles in Europe. A ‘100%’ recycling rate for bottles is technically not possible and, just because bottles are made with recycled plastic, does not mean they don’t harm people and the planet,” said Rosa Pritchard, Plastics Lawyer at ClientEarth.

As companies double down on their sustainability initiatives, the threats they face from greenwashing allegations are increasing as well.

Coca-Cola, arguably the world’s most prominent user of plastic bottles, has always found itself under intense scrutiny by environmental organizations agitating for a world free of plastics. 

Since 2018, the owner of Coke, Sprite, and Fata Carbonated Soft Beverage brands has consistently topped the world’s top plastic producer list by Break Free from Plastic.

In response to this criticism, Coca-Cola has introduced several initiatives, the most notable being a world without waste initiative which aims to create systemic change through a circular economy for its packaging alongside its bottling partners.

Opponents of plastics however believe plastic can never be truly “green” and no recycling efforts can solve the plastic problem that the world currently faces.

In a statement, the BEUC said the recycling rate for PET beverage bottle bodies is estimated to be “only 55% in the EU” and the chance of it becoming a bottle again stands at “around 30%”.