Recycling complaint supported

A Wanaka Wastebusters complaint about recycling claims made by New Zealand drinks manufacturer Charlie's has been upheld by the Commerce Commission.

Community recycling organisation Wanaka Wastebusters complained to the commission last year the plastic material Charlie's Honest Water Eco Bottles were made from could not be recycled. It sent more than 1200 of the plant-based PLA (Polylactic Acid) bottles back to Charlie's and asked the company to recycle them.

Charlie's Trading Company Ltd, which this month changed its name to The Better Drinks Company, arranged for those bottles to be industrially composted.

Commerce Commission communications manager Allanah Kalafatelis said the commission considered claims the eco bottles were recyclable were ''potentially misleading'' and a possible breach of the Fair Trading Act.

''While we accepted that the claims were true: the eco bottles can be recycled, our inquiries showed that the bottles are currently unsuitable for recycling in New Zealand. They are treated as a contaminant by recyclers and sent to landfills rather than recycled.''

The commission sent a Compliance Advice Letter to Charlie's regarding the complaint and the company subsequently amended advertising which was of concern to the commission.

The Better Drinks Company chief executive Craig Cotton confirmed after discussions with the commission, and to avoid any confusion since ''a small number of councils don't pick up PLA 7'', the ''please recycle'' symbol and statement had been removed from the eco-bottle and the company website earlier this year.

Wanaka Wastebusters spokesperson Gina Dempster said the move was a win for both consumers and recyclers.

''For consumers, it protects their right to accurate information to base their decisions on. For recyclers ... they don't have to deal with a material they can't recycle. It puts the responsibility back on Charlie's to come up with an end-of-life solution for the bottle, instead of expecting recyclers to sort it out for them.''

Ms Dempster said Wanaka Wastebusters took the case to the Commerce Commission to protect the goodwill people had towards recycling.

''It's misleading to put 'please recycle' on the label, if the bottles are actually going to end up in the landfill.''

However, Mr Cotton maintained there was nothing misleading about the claims.

''Councils are paid to collect bottles made from PLA 7 and 80% of consumers live within councils that have kerb-side recycling. It is up to the council and or recyclers to decide what it does with the bottles once collected. There is a perfectly good commercial composting plant in Waiuku south of Auckland.

''Our view is still that PLA 7 can be commercially composted in New Zealand and we respectfully suggest recyclers and councils look towards the future and invest in making it a viable sustainable business opportunity that is better for the planet than putting oil-based PET plastic into the ground.''

Mr Cotton said at this stage, the company would not be changing from the PLA plastic used for the Honest Water Eco Bottles, nor would it change the name of the product.

Wanaka Wastebusters has developed a smart packaging website for businesses www.smartpackaging.org with financial assistance from the Waste Minimisation Fund.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz

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