A number of consumer groups – including BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation – have reported three major drinking water bottle producers to the European Commission and the CPC – a European network of consumer protection authorities. 

They are calling for the Commission to investigate the companies for making misleading commercial claims about the recyclability of their products and therefore breaching consumer law. 

Claims of concern

In their report, the consumer groups identified three claims of concern:

  • 100% recyclable”  this term is considered ambiguous as it depends heavily on the available infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle materials. They flag that the recycling rate for the plastic bottle bodies is “estimated to be only 55% in the EU”. 
  •  100% recycled” – it’s alleged that this claim is incorrect, as it implies that the entire bottle (both the body and lid) is made entirely from recycled materials. As well as arguing that labels are rarely made from recycled materials, they note that bottle lids simply cannot be made of recycled materials under EU laws regarding recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods.
  • Use of green imagery – the brands use green logos and images of nature, therefore creating an idea of “environmental neutrality” and falsely implying that that plastic bottles have a positive impact on the environment.

What’s next?

If the European Commission agrees with the complaints raised, it will be able to organise a co-ordinated response amongst the various national consumer authorities. These authorities will then have the power to take action, either demanding the companies make necessary changes to the bottles or imposing fines.

It is also worth noting that the European Parliament and Council have reached a provisional agreement on new rules which will seek to tackle greenwashing. MEPs are expected to vote this month and, if approved, member states will have 24 months to implement these rules into their law. Under this Green Transition Directive, various ‘problematic’ greenwashing practices (for example, making claims that a product is “ecofriendly”, “natural” or “biodegradable”) will be banned unless the brand can provide proof of ‘recognised excellent environmental performance’.

While the UK government is yet to follow in the footsteps of its continental counterpart, and does not plan to add greenwashing to the list of unfair practices in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, it continues to be a hot topic – the CMA and ASA have made it clear that such claims are under sustained and continuous scrutiny.  With the regulators vowing to “take a firm but proportionate approach”, manufacturers and retailers remain under pressure to ensure than any ‘green’ claims are not misleading and are indeed capable of substantiation.