Coca-Cola has been accused of misleading consumers over its plastic pledges following an investigation.

A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary has found the soft drink giant’s bottling partners sell two billion plastic bottles and two billion cans a year in the UK – equating to 65,000 tonnes of single-use plastic.

In 2017, Coca-Cola said it aimed to recover every bottle it sells by 2030. 

But the Local Government Association, which collects waste across the country, claims to have never been approached by Coca-Cola to help clean up the rubbish it profits from.

The company claims on its website that a recycled Coke bottle could be back on shelves as ‘a new bottle in as little as six weeks’, but does not mention degradation, or the fact it can only be done a finite number of times.

The competition regulator told the documentary that suggesting to customers that a plastic bottle can be recycled forever is misleading.

Reporter Ellie Flynn pictured in Coca Cola¿s Dirty Secret: Dispatches

Reporter Ellie Flynn pictured in Coca Cola’s Dirty Secret: Dispatches

Last year, researchers found that The Coca-Cola Company tops the list as Britain’s worst plastic and packaging polluter, followed by McDonald’s and PepsiCo.

The company, which owns several popular brands including Monster and Costa, topped the list as the worst polluter, with 1,820 items collected.

Lizzie Carr MBE, founder of Planet Patrol – a litter-picking app that collects vital data on single-use plastic – revealed that Coca-Cola was the brand most commonly found discarded in 2023, for the fifth consecutive year.

She said: ‘Since 2019, when we started recording data…the most polluting brand has been Coca-Cola every year.’ 

Lord Hayward – a former executive, who worked at one of Coca-Cola’s main bottling plants when the first plastic bottle was introduced, told Dispatches: ‘At the time, we thought it was a great idea. Now, I’m disappointed that we didn’t identify many of the problems earlier.’

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In 2017, Coca-Cola pledged to recover and recycle every single can and bottle sold by 2030. 

However, Councillor Darren Rodwell from the Local Government Association claimed Coke is not involved in collecting or recovering the waste it creates.

He said: ‘I’ve never been approached by Coca-Cola or any other company to do with helping us clean up the rubbish that they’re profiting from. …packaging has been a real issue, especially plastic packaging.’

Concerned about the cost implications of this waste, he said: ‘For every penny we are spending on waste, actually, we’re not spending it on supporting people. That’s a real cost to us as a society.’

Coca-Cola claims on their website: ‘A Coke bottle you recycle could be back on shelves as a new bottle in as little as six weeks,’ without mentioning degradation, or that this can only be done a finite number of times.

Prof Michael Shaver, Director of the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub at Manchester University, said:  ‘In any system there is always degradation. The imagined future where we can break the laws of physics and somehow get one bottle turning into another bottle, that doesn’t exist.’

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) told the documentary it has become increasingly concerned about claims brands make about recyclability. 

Cecilia Parker Aranha, Director of Consumer Protection at the CMA said: ‘Plastic degrades and [is] not infinitely recyclable. 

In 2017, Coca-Cola pledged to recover and recycle every single can and bottle that they sell

In 2017, Coca-Cola pledged to recover and recycle every single can and bottle that they sell

Many of us try our best to reduce our plastic consumption. But despite our best efforts, figures suggest that a whopping 220 million tonnes of plastic waste are set to be generated this year

Many of us try our best to reduce our plastic consumption. But despite our best efforts, figures suggest that a whopping 220 million tonnes of plastic waste are set to be generated this year

‘So if you are pretending to consumers that the plastic bottle they are using can be recycled forever, then that probably would amount to a misleading claim and something we would be worried about.

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She continued: ‘We’re worried that the information that’s being provided to consumers is misleading them and is painting a picture that some of these products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.’

Coca-Cola said it ‘fully comply with the UK’s world-leading approach to ensuring that consumer communications are not misleading.’ 

It claimed to be ‘working with national and local governments…to invest in the ongoing development of a successful and effective recycling industry,’ in order ‘to reduce the amount of plastic’ it uses.

The company added: ‘More than a decade ago we invested to help build the UK’s first bottle-to-bottle reprocessing plant.’

A spokesperson at Coca-Cola Great Britain said previously: ‘We care about the impact of every drink we sell and we’re working to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use.

‘We have an ambitious goal to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one we sell by 2030.

‘In addition, we support well-designed Deposit Return Schemes across Europe which we know can help us get our packaging back.’

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