Ditch the ad, not the can

This week’s blog is contributed by William Boyd, director and chief executive, Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA)

New research, commissioned by MPMA amongst 2,000 people, revealed that some eight in ten consumers believe that retailers should make it ‘crystal clear’ whether a pack can be recycled or not.  

And seven in ten also believe that retailers should do more to promote the recycling attributes of the products they sell.

By ‘crystal clear, I believe that consumers are asking for easy to understand recycling logos, or transparent recycling rates that stand out on the packand that these are not fudged in a raft of incomprehensible jargon or presented in a way that misleads consumers.  

Consumers want to be told truthfully if packs are made from recycled materials and if they can then be recycled again. They also need to be confident that if packs are collected for recycling, that they are actually recycled. That’s why, to my mind, it is the clear presentation of recycling rates that matter and resonate most with consumers

This issue of misleading sustainability information has recently raised its head in a campaign by pet food manufacturer, Pooch & Mutt. The company’s ads and merchandising carry the headline ‘Ditch the Can’ with a supporting subheading 80% lower global warming potential vs the can’.  

I believe that this not only falsely denigrates the can, but also suggests to the consumer that the can’s sustainability credentials fall short of the cartons used by Pooch & Mutt.

To my mind this is a staggering misrepresentation, not least given that the accepted European recycling rate for cartons is just 47 per centcompared to steel cans at 74.7 per cent.

What’s more, in the UK, the can’s recycling rate is even higher at 78 per cent while, interestingly, a comparable figure is not available for cartons. A recent press report did claim, however,that neither ACE UK (The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment) or Tetra Pak will disclose the carton’s actual UK recycling rate, saying only that it is ‘certainly higher than the global average of 25 per cent’. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

As you might expect though, none of this this appears to sit well with Pooch & Mutt. 

When the MPMA requested the supporting evidence underpinning Pooch & Mutt’s environmental claimsthe company’s founder duly obliged providing links to an LCA analysis that the metal packaging sector is currently reviewing in detail. A first glance, however, suggests that it is a narrow study and does not appear to include any UK data. In the meantime, and rather to our surprise, the company’s founder took to the media claiming that the MPMA had issued ‘threats’. 

Querying a statement is not, of course, a threat, and it would indeed be odd if the sector did not question such blatant statementsespecially given that metal packaging is widely regarded as a sustainability success with the highest recycling rates of any packaging material and being awarded ‘permanently available material’ status (BS8905) by the British Standards Institution (BSI).

In its initial response to MPMA’s query, Pooch & Mutt appears to have taken, perhaps somewhat predictably, a David and Goliath stance, big versus small, and in this vein has cited a previous complaint made against it to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which resulted in the company removing an offending page from its websiteThis requirement was, according to Pooch & Muttonly achieved by the complainant ‘through a loophole’

The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media and requires that all ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful. This includes comparative advertising and in this respect Pooch & Mutt might well heed what consumers want most – recycling facts. 

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