MADRID – The Spanish consumer organisation OCU, together with consumer associations from other countries, denounces the practice of ‘greenwashing’ around bottled water.
Greenwashing, referred to in Spanish as ‘ecopostureo’ or ‘ecoblanqueo’, is a deceptive technique that consists in steering the marketing image of an organisation or company towards an ecological positioning, even if in reality the actions are contrary to the environment. The OCU and similar organisations from other countries are now targeting companies that sell bottled water.
According to the organisation, statements such as ‘100% recycled’ or ‘100% recyclable’ are clear examples of false claims. Because, they explain, water bottles (and other drinks) are the main contributors to plastic pollution on Europe’s beaches. Each European consumer drinks approximately 118 litres of bottled water per year.
Drinking tap water, whenever possible, is better
“At OCU we have always taken a clear position in favour of tap water. This is more economical and ecological, and therefore best for drinking wherever possible. Bottled water is an option when drinking tap water is not possible. But the truth is that its sustainability leaves much to be desired. However, the solution is not to give the impression that these are more sustainable or ‘eco’ products than they actually are by making claims. Such as that the bottle in which the water is packaged is 100% recyclable or recycled.
The OCU supports its claims with a report designed to provide reliable data. Several European consumer organisations conducted a complete study together with ClientEarth and ECOS (Environmental Coalition on Standards). After the results were known, complaints were submitted to the packaging companies to the European Commission and the Network of Consumer Protection Authorities (CPC), requesting that an investigation be launched.
Consumers need truthful information
OCU has also requested the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to ensure that consumers are not misled with these types of claims. Instead, they must be provided with truthful, clear and reliable information on which they can make good choices.
Also read: Is tap water in Spain safe to drink?
“We have been fighting greenwashing by manufacturers and traders for years: water, as we see, is no exception,” with a false “facelift” of bottles.
Greenwashing techniques for bottled water according to OCU
Some examples of water bottles using greenwashing techniques and false claims, according to the OCU, include:
- “100% recyclable”: Packers can’t say this. This depends on factors such as the infrastructure available to collect the material, the efficiency of the sorting process or the recycling processes: in fact, it is estimated that the recycling rate for PET beverage bottles is only 55% in the EU. The chance that these materials will be turned back into a bottle is about 30%.
- “100% recycled”: This incorrectly concludes that the bottle is made entirely from recycled materials. The truth is that under European Union law, bottle caps cannot be made from recycled materials. Labels are also generally not made from recycled materials. Additionally, it is also common to add virgin (i.e. non-recycled) plastic to the bottle.
- Falsified, suggestive images or appeal to ecological logos: Many water bottles use images of closed loops, ‘green’ logos, or images of nature, which imply the idea of environmental neutrality and circularity in the life cycle of plastic. They even give the impression that the bottles would have a positive impact on the environment.