On 6 March 2024, the appeal body (College van Beroep) confirmed the decision of 14 December 2023 by the Dutch advertising authority (Reclame Code Commissie, RCC) in a complaint by the Climate Law Clinic against Colgate-Palmolive. 

In the confirmed decision, the RCC had found that Colgate-Palmolive had misled consumers with claims about the recyclability of the plastic packaging of Colgate-Palmolive products. More specifically, it addressed three environmental marketing claims made on Ajax cleaner bottles: “bottle and cap recyclable”, “bottle made from 100% recycled plastics” and “environmentally conscious product.” During the proceedings Colgate-Palmolive was not able to prove that its marketing claims are indeed true. 

The decision is highly impactful, as many companies incorrectly suggest that plastic packaging is circular, i.e., is fully made from recycled materials, and is fully recyclable. This creates the incorrect impression in consumers that plastic packaging is sustainable, even though it is not. After the decision, many companies will have to reconsider their marketing claims.

In reality, plastic packaging is mostly made from virgin plastic, which in turn is made from fossil fuels. Moreover, plastic packaging mostly ends up in the general trash, and is therefore not recycled. Of the plastic that consumers put into the recycling bin, only a small percentage is actually recycled, while the rest is still burned or ends up in the landfill. The reason is that the recycling of mixed plastic waste is technically difficult and expensive. And even the plastic that is recovered usually cannot be recycled into packaging of the same quality, but is “downcycled” into low quality materials that have very limited uses. The sole exception is PET plastic collected through a separate collection scheme, such as the Dutch statiegeld-system. 

The decision was reported in national media, for example by NRC: “Studenten winnen opvallende greenwashingzaak tegen Colgate-Palmolive”