Multinationals Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé and PepsiCo want to improve existing recycling systems rather than invest in new bottle designs with attached caps, which is the EU’s preferred way of curbing plastic waste.
The four companies have urged EU environment ministers to hold off backing the European Commission’s cap-tether proposal, in a leaked letter seen by EURACTIV, and instead support their own plastic-waste-busting ideas.
Plastic bottle caps are one of the most frequently found plastic products during beach clean-ups and the Commission’s single-use plastic proposal suggests that drink containers should only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached, meaning they will be easier to collect.
In their letter dated 9 October, Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé and PepsiCo insist though that “investment in mandatory tethered caps will not necessarily lead to the required outcomes” and instead suggest the money would be better spent on measures to increase recycling collection rates.
They also pledge to run trials in at least two countries as early as next March to see how effective the so-called deposit return schemes are at collecting bottles with caps and to upgrade reverse-vending machine software if return rates are not above 95%.
DRSs are schemes that financially reward consumers for returning used containers and are active in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. In poorer member states like Croatia, it is even a reliable source of income for homeless people and anyone below the poverty line.
Under the companies’ proposal, any upgrades would be rolled out across countries with existing return schemes, with the goal of reaching a 90% return rate by 2025.
They also suggest that so-called extended producer responsibility schemes (EPRs), which make producers financially responsible to varying degrees for collection and sorting of recycled materials, should be tweaked to address the cap issue.
The letter concludes by acknowledging that the tethered cap requirement should only come into force if their proposed alternatives are not effective “by the end of 2021”.
But the manoeuvring from Coca-Cola et al was criticised by green NGO Greenpeace, whose EU chemicals policy expert Kevin Stairs said that “this attempt to weaken the proposed EU laws just shows that plastic producers can’t be relied on to fight plastic pollution voluntarily”.
Earlier this month, Coca Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo were the most frequent companies identified during an audit of global plastic clean-up efforts. Coke-branded waste was found in 40 countries out of 42 surveyed on six continents.
The scale of the plastic pollution problem was confirmed again at the beginning of the month when a washing-up detergent bottle dating from 50 years ago was found on a British beach. The coastguard who found it said it looked “good as new”.
Members of the European Parliament will vote this week in Strasbourg on a draft report into the single-use plastic proposal, and several amendments to the Commission text aim to increase the onus on making sure caps are properly dealt with.
A provisional date of 6 November has already been earmarked for a first three-way talk between the Commission, Parliament and member states, although the latter still have to agree on a joint negotiating position.
Sources familiar with the file say that the aim is to have the EU’s environment council sign off on the final deal in the last week of December.
Other parts of the EU executive’s flagship plan, which comes from the broader Plastics Strategy, include bans on specific single-use items like cutlery, plates, straws, cotton buds and balloon sticks.