NGOs criticise Coca-Cola ‘single-use’ claim in letter to WRAP

A group of seven environmental NGOs have sent an open letter to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) raising concern over what they feel is the misleading use of the term ‘single-use’ in a Coca-Cola advertising campaign during Recycle Week 2019.

Plastic bottles of Coca-Cola

Representatives from City to Sea, the Gallifrey Foundation, GLOBAL 2000, Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, Everyday Plastic and Less Plastic have argued in their letter today (5 February) that Coca-Cola – a prominent member of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact – sought to disrupt consumer understanding of the term ‘single-use’ by claiming that its plastic bottles are ‘only single-use if they are thrown away’ rather than recycled in its Round in Circles ad campaign that it ran between 23-29 September 2019 as part of WRAP's Recycle Week.

City to Sea initially submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in December, which concluded that Coca-Cola did not breach its advertising code and its use of the term ‘single-use’ would be interpreted as relating to bottles that would normally go to landfill, rather than recycled.

In response to this ruling, City to Sea questioned whether the ruling was based on any existing definition of single-use, pointing out that Recycle Now, which is managed by WRAP, explains that a product can be ‘single-use’ regardless of whether or not it is recycled, defining single-use as plastics that are ‘used only once before they are thrown away or recycled’.

Today’s letter to WRAP reiterates the position that Coca-Cola’s advertising campaign ‘sets a dangerous precedent’ by undermining widely accepted definitions of the term ‘single-use’.

Although Coca-Cola has signed the UK Plastics Pact – a voluntary commitment to reduce plastic waste by 2025 – the letter highlights that the multinational corporation remains one of the biggest contributors to global plastic pollution, responsible for more than a fifth of global PET bottle output.

Stating that Coca-Cola is ‘undermining WRAP’s important work on eliminating problematic plastics’, the letter’s signatories call on WRAP to clarify how the UK Plastics Pact will protect the accepted definition of the term ‘single-use’ and hold its members to account.

Steve Hynd, Campaigns Manager at City to Sea, commented: “The first step to tackling a problem is accepting that you have a problem. Coca-Cola produces 200,000 bottles a minute – more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output. They have been consistently named as the worst plastic polluter in the world. But Coca-Cola seems more interested in bottling up their problems and denying that their bottles are single-use plastic.

“We are today asking WRAP to stand with us in making sure Coca-Cola is left with no doubt that they have a big single-use plastic problem but also that we know they have the potential to be part of the solution going forward.

“WRAP is doing important work with the drinks industry and that’s why we have reached out to them now. We are deeply worried that Coca-Cola is undermining WRAP’s work. The most important thing WRAP could do now is to communicate to their members, including other drinks giants like Pepsi Co, in a way that leaves no room for doubt about what constitutes ‘single-use’ so that all members are working off the same definitions. This way we can try and find a path forward, together, to removing what WRAP rightly identifies as ‘problematic plastics’.”

Responding, a Coca-Cola European Partners spokesperson said: “The campaign we ran in Recycle Week last year featured a series of different messages designed to make more people aware that all of our bottles and cans are 100% recyclable. We think it’s important that people understand these bottles can be recycled - which isn’t the case with all plastic packaging - so that they do end up in the recycling bin and not general waste. The more PET bottles recovered and recycled, the more recycled content we can put back in our bottles – reducing our use of virgin plastic and giving that material more than one life. We support the introduction of a well-designed deposit return scheme which will help us get more back, but in the meantime this campaign was one of the ways we’re trying to increase recycling rates for our bottles.  This is just one element of our sustainable packaging strategy – we want to use less packaging where we can, achieve zero waste and see none of our packaging end up as litter.”

You can read the open letter to WRAP on the City to Sea website

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