This article has been corrected.
BBB National Programs says a national TV ad from beverage producers overstated the prevalence of PET-bottle-to-bottle recycling and its resulting waste-reduction benefits, but the group affirmed that other ad claims related to bottle recyclability rested on solid footing.
BBB National Programs says a national TV ad from beverage producers overstated the prevalence of PET-bottle-to-bottle recycling and its resulting waste-reduction benefits, but BBB National Programs affirmed that other ad claims related to bottle recyclability rested on solid footing.
The ruling came from BBB National Programs, an independent nonprofit group that was launched when the Council of Better Business Bureaus restructured in 2019. The group’s National Advertising Division (NAD) in November 2022 examined an advertisement from American Beverage (formerly the American Beverage Association) as part of NAD’s routine monitoring of truth and transparency in U.S. advertising.
The ad, which ran online and on national cable channels, was part of American Beverage’s Every Bottle Back campaign, which is supported by The Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo. Every Bottle Back encourages consumers to recycle PET bottles, helps fund recycling facility sorting equipment and provides money for cart-based collections.
After its review of the ad, which has since been modified, NAD took issue with multiple claims related to closed-loop recycling and the result of partnerships.
Specifically, NAD determined the dialogue that bottles are “collected and separated from other plastics so they can be turned back into material that we use to make new bottles” and that the activity “reduces plastic waste” left reasonable consumers with an inaccurate impression that “a significant amount of recycled content is currently used by the industry to produce new single use plastic bottles and that there is a resulting reduction in plastic waste today,” according to the decision.
NAD also found that the ad overstates the work American Beverage is doing in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and its ReSource: Plastic project and through its work with The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners.
Specifically, the ad said the beverage companies are “working with World Wildlife Fund through their ReSource: Plastic to reduce our plastic footprint.” The ReSource: Plastics project uses an analytics tool to track and publicly report the plastic footprint of brand owners, as they work to meet plastic waste reduction goals they agreed to when they joined up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
NAD decided that the evidence provided didn’t support the broad claim that American Beverage is reducing the plastic footprint of its member companies, and it recommended modifying the ad to better describe the efforts and results of the WWF partnership.
Lastly, NAD took issue with a claim that American Beverage is “partnering with The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners to … modernize the recycling infrastructure in communities across the country.” NAD determined that American Beverage’s “efforts are occurring in some communities in many states, but not broadly in communities across the country as the claim states.”
Additionally, NAD argued that some of the work, such as adding recycling carts and boosting education efforts, doesn’t meet the definition of infrastructure modernization. NAD recommended modifying the claims to better reflect the modernization efforts that are occurring.
The NAD found other claims to be supported, however. For example, the TV spot emphasized that “our bottles are made to be remade” and “we’re carefully designing our bottles to be 100% recyclable, including the caps.” NAD said the evidence backed up those assertions, including the fact that beverage companies use 100% recyclable virgin plastic in bottles and some members are transitioning from colored PET to clear PET bottles.
American Beverage responds
American Beverage appealed the November NAD decision to the BBB National Programs National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which on March 16, 2023, upheld the NAD concerns. American Beverage took issue with the ruling related to closed-loop recycling and the description of outcomes of industry partnerships.
“These portions of NAD’s decision would limit our ability to effectively provide educational information about how the recycling system can work and inspire others to join us in striving toward our collection goals,” American Beverage wrote in response, according to BBB National Programs.
Even though it disagrees, American Beverage said it would look at modifying the ads in line with NARB’s decision. The ad posted on YouTube has since been modified.
NAD was created over 50 years ago. BBB National Programs has no legal or regulatory authority, but its affiliation with BBB’s 111-year-old name carries substantial reputational clout. In cases where the advertiser refuses to comply with BBB National Programs’ decision, the group will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or other regulatory agencies.
This article has been corrected to make clear that the review and decision was from BBB National Programs, which was created when the Council of Better Business Bureaus restructured in 2019, not from the BBB.
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