Six companies, including Coca-Cola Philippines, are facing charges before the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for allegedly using dangerous plastic packaging and for their “false” recyclable plastic advertisements.
This after the DTI recently handed down Certificates to File Action against the respondents in the landmark complaint filed by 32 concerned Filipino consumers last November, paving the way for the adjudication or the legal process in which an arbiter—in this case, the DTI—reviews evidence and arguments of opposing parties.
Aside from Coca-Cola, the other companies named respondents to the consumer complaints are Pepsi-Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, and Universal Robina Corp. (URC).
The complainants include fishermen residing in Malabon, Navotas, Parañaque, and Cavite, and members of civil society organizations and environmental advocacy groups.
Lauding the DTI for its prompt action that will allow their legitimate complaints against the manufacturing firms to be justly heard, the complainants are confident in pursuing what they describe as a strong case that will hold the respondents accountable.
After a successful DTI mediation, the complainants and one of the companies—Procter and Gamble—have 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,” Pablo Rosales, one of the complainants said in a statement.
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). They are hoping to stop these manufacturing giants from further using plastic packaging due to its threats to people and the environment.
They are also asking 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.”
The complaints want the respondent firms to replace their packaging and invest in reuse and refillable systems of product delivery, and refund the premium they paid for the recyclability claim.
Incidentally, the respondent-companies have been blamed for causing global plastic pollution and were identified as worst offenders in local as well as global brand audits.
“In the brand audits conducted by Break Free from Plastic, Coca-Cola consistently topped the list of the worse polluters worldwide in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. The other respondent companies are consistently in the top 10,” according to the complaint.
The complainants said plastics used for food packaging are not recyclable and contain harmful chemicals that may endanger the health and well-being of 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 a sufficient scale in the Philippines. “Thus, the ‘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.
Break Free From Plastic Movement agrees with the complainants in expressing caution over corporations that continue producing highly-polluting plastic packaging.
“The government and consumers should be wary of these corporations that promote false solutions, often nicely worded as plastic neutrality and offsetting schemes. But in reality, these greenwashing activities involve burning of plastic waste in cement kilns and have nothing to do with drastically reducing plastic production,” Miko Alino, Project Coordinator for Corporate Accountability, Break Free From Plastic, said.
For her part, Greenpeace Philippines Country Director Leah B. Guerrero accused corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Unilever of making consumers believe that plastic recycling is the solution to plastic waste.