City to Sea submits ASA complaint over Coca Cola ‘single-use’ claim

A Coca Cola advertising campaign claiming that single-use plastic bottles are ‘only single-use if they are thrown away’ has been dubbed ‘misleading’ by plastic pollution campaign group City to Sea in a complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).

Plastic bottles of coca cola

The advertising campaign, entitled ‘Round in Circles’, suggests that Coca Cola’s plastic bottles are not single-use because they can be recycled – a definition at odds with the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) description of single-use as ‘plastic items which are designed to be used for one time by the consumer before they are thrown away or recycled.’

The Bristol-based charity has argued that, through misrepresenting the term ‘single-use’, Coca Cola – a company named as one of the world’s top plastic polluters – is encouraging consumers to purchase plastic bottles, increasing the volume of plastic ending up in the environment.

Using the twitter hashtag #CallOutCoke, City to Sea is calling on the public to join the charity in complaining to the ASA, asking that Coca Cola withdraws its ads and tackles the use of single-use plastic bottles by shifting towards a refill scheme.

What is single-use?

Named as Collins’ Word of the Year in 2018, ‘single-use’ has been in the spotlight over recent years, with governments and businesses making commitments to tackling the issue of plastic pollution. EU member states have until 2021 to ban single-use plastic products, including cotton buds and straws, as part of the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive, and UK legislation banning plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is due to come into force in April 2020.

Although Coca Cola has claimed that its bottles are not single-use because they can be recycled, the established meaning of the term would suggest otherwise.

As with the UNEP definition, Recycle Now – which is managed by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) – highlights that the recyclability of a product does not change whether or not it is ‘single-use’, explaining that ‘single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.’

Commenting on Coca Cola’s advertising campaign, Rebecca Burgess, City to Sea’s CEO, said: “The holidays are coming, along with the iconic Coca Cola truck. But this year, Coca Cola has 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.”

City to Sea’s Campaigns Manager Steve Hynd added: “We need green action, not greenwash to tackle plastic pollution. The way Coca Cola are using the phrase ‘single-use’ is not how most people understand it, and it is not how legal entities define it. Just because a product can be recycled, 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 them to introduce a comprehensive refill system, where the same item is cleaned and re-used multiple times.

“Although plastic bottle recycling is widespread, bottles are still a significant source of plastic pollution. There are now more than 150 plastic bottles for every mile of beach in the UK and a government report revealed that an estimated 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every single day in the UK. To deal with the plastics crisis we must reduce and re-use items, rather than rely on recycling.”

After receiving a number of complaints as part of City to Sea’s #CallOutCoke campaign, the ASA has tweeted that it is “currently assessing” Coca Cola’s single-use plastics advertisements.

A spokeswoman from Coca Cola said: “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.”

You can find more about City to Sea on the campaign group’s website.

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