February 1, 2023

Coca Cola, 5 other oceans ‘polluters’ in hot water for false recyclable plastic ads

Consumers now gearing up for legal battle as DTI issues Certificate to File Action

Photo: Leo Sabangan II

The 32 concerned Filipino consumers who filed a complaint against Coca Cola Philippines and five other companies for their dangerous plastic packaging and false recyclable plastic advertisement are now gearing up for adjudication before the Department of Trade and Industry.

At a press conference in Quezon City on January 25, the complainants lauded the DTI for its prompt action that will allow their legitimate complaints against the manufacturing firms to be justly heard.

Aside from Coca Cola, the other companies named respondent to the consumer complaints are Pepsi Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive and Universal Robina Corp (URC). These manufacturing companies have been blamed for causing plastic pollution in the Philippines and the world.

We already know that plastics pollute our creeks, rivers and seas and clog drainage systems.

Beyond that, plastics are threatening the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, since greenhouse gases are emitted throughout the plastic life cycle.

Extraction, refining, manufacture and disposal of plastics are all carbon intensive activities. As 99% of plastics are created from fossil fuel feedstocks, plastic production is closed linked to the petrochemical industry. Petrochemicals are expected to become the largest driver of global oil demand growth from now through 2030.

While the international community is striving to address climate change by moving away from fossil fuels in the energy and transportation sectors, plastics should not be forgotten, as they are tightly linked to the fossil industry. As a climate justice organization we believe that a fossil-free world is zero-waste. – Fread De Mesa, Coordinator, 350 Pilipinas

The DTI recently handed down Certificates to File Action following failed mediation between parties. Meanwhile, after a successful DTI mediation, the complainants and one of the companies – Procter and Gamble – agreed to continue the dialogue with the hope of reaching an amicable settlement.
“We welcome with guarded optimism the move of Procter and Gamble to sit down and talk to address this legitimate consumer complaint. As for the other companies, the complaint against them for their false recyclable plastic advertisement is strong and we are confident that the agency mandated to protect consumer rights will be on our side,” says Pablo Rosales, one of the complainants.

To recall, on November 15, 2022, accompanied by their lawyers, the complainants in the case trooped to the DTI in Makati City and filed the complaint before the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau-Mediation and Adjudication Bureau against Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Procter and Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Universal Robina Corp (URC) with the hope of stopping further use of harmful plastic packaging due to its threats to people and the environment.

They also ask these corporations to correct or remove the “recycle me” label, and other recycling words, marks and symbols on their plastic bottles, packets, tubes and sachets arguing that these are false and misleading.

They demanded the respondent-firms to replace their packaging and invest on reuse and refillable systems of product delivery, and refund the premium they paid for the recyclability claim.

These corporations are known plastic polluters and have consistently been the worst offenders in local as well as global brand audits.

In the brand audits conducted by Break Free from Plastic, Coca-cola ranked No. 1 polluter worldwide in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

In 2018, PepsiCo and Nestle followed Coca-Cola as worse polluters, with P&G and Unilever ranked 6 and 7, while Colgate Palmolive was ranked No. 10.

In 2019, Nestle, Pepsico. Unilever was no. 5 while P&G, no. 7, followed by Colgate-Palmolive at no. 8. In 2020, Pepsico rose to top 2, Nestle fell to top 3, followed by Uniliver. P&G was top 9 and Colgate-
Palmolive, in top 10.

Finally, in 2021, the fourt year of waste brand audits, Pepsico, Unilever, Nestle and P&G were top 2 and 3, while Colgate-Palmolive was still top 10.

The complainants argued that plastics used for food packaging are not recyclable and contain harmful chemicals that may endanger the health and wellbeing of the consumers.

Packets, tubes and sachets are comprised of multiple layers of different types of materials, adhesives, and dyes that make any of these impossible to recycle. The plastic labels and caps on the bottles are not recyclable, they also argued.

Worse, they said there is no recycling system and structure at sufficient scale in the Philippines. Thus, ‘recycle me’ label is false and misleading.

Because the plastics are not recyclable, the complainants say that the undeterred production and use of plastic packaging contributed, in a major way, to the massive plastic pollution in the Philippines, and the world.

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