Legal complaint filed against Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Danone over misleading recyclability claims
A legal complaint has been filed against major food and beverage companies Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé by the European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, for what they deem to be misleading claims regarding the sustainability of their products.
BEUC’s complaint, supported by ClientEarth and ECOS (an International NGO advocating for environmentally friendly standards), is being made on the basis that statements made by these companies that their products are packaged in ‘100% recyclable’ and ‘100% recycled’ plastic bottles, are too vague, inaccurate and/or insufficiently substantiated. They argue that these claims breach EU rules on unfair commercial practices.
BEUC have also stated that certain symbols (such as closed loop symbols, green logos, and nature images which are often used on water bottle labels in Europe) mislead consumers into believing the products are not problematic, or even that they are positive for the environment.
They highlight that the recyclability of products depends on many factors including the effectiveness of the sorting process and availability of appropriate recycling processes. According to ClientEarth only around 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled.
ClientEarth argue that the recycling claims do not take into account that the lids and labels of these bottles often contain little to no recycled plastic content. They also state that the idea of plastic being infinitely and continuously recycled in a circular loop is ‘simply not true’ and the reality is that each time plastic is recycled it degrades.
Chemicals in plastics
In addition to the issues around recycling, plastics can contain harmful chemicals. Over 13,000 chemicals have been associated with plastics, and only around 7,000 of these have enough data available to determine their human or environmental impacts – of which around 50% have one or more hazardous properties of concern.
Chemicals of concern in plastics can include bisphenols and phthalates, some of which have negative effects on the endocrine systems of people and wildlife, and have been linked to health impacts such as certain cancers and reproductive problems.
Wildlife can be exposed when these chemicals leach into the environment and people can be exposed, for example, through consumption of food and drink that has been in contact with plastic food packaging.
Old plastics may contain chemicals that are already restricted or banned, meaning that if they are recycled into new products consumers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals of concern.
CHEM Trust has been campaigning for many years for restrictions on hazardous chemicals in plastics – in particular bisphenols and phthalates. We have also been a member of the Break Free From Plastic movement since 2016, which involves over 12,000 organisations and individuals working together to stop plastic pollution.