The Attorney General of California has filed what she calls a “greenwashing” lawsuit against one plastics company and two bottlers for misleading advertising over claims that plastic bottles are “100 percent biodegradable and recyclable.” Under California law, it is illegal to label a plastic food or beverage container as biodegradable. The AG states that “Californians are committed to recycling and protecting the environment, but these efforts are undermined by the false and misleading claims these companies make when they wrongly advertise their products as ‘biodegradable.”
The plastic resin that is subject to the charges is produced by ENSO Plastics LLC and the bottled water products are from Balance and AquaMantra. The AG states that “Consumers may buy these defendants’ bottles and either dispose of them incorrectly, on the assumption that they will biodegrade quickly, when in fact they will simply take up space in landfills, or they will try to recycle them, creating problems and costs for recyclers.” Her press release also states that a recent Gallup poll found that 76 percent of Americans buy products specifically because of their perception the product is better for the environment.
In 2008, the California Legislature banned the use of words like “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decomposable” in the labeling of plastic food or beverage containers. Senate Bill 567, signed into law by the Governor this year, will expand that law to all plastic products beginning in 2013.
Although California’s legislation banning use of these terms is unique in the US, similar restrictions on the use of these terms exist in other US and state legislation and regulation and in Canada’s environmental labeling requirements. Similar charges could be laid in Canada.
Somewhat similar charges were brought against Mobil Oil Corp. in 1993 challenging degradability and landfill benefit claims for Hefty Degradable plastic trash bags. These claims were settled by consent order and the product in question was withdrawn from the market.
The California Attorney General’s announcement of the charges can be found at http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2577 Examples of the claims that are the subject of the charges can be found on the ENSO website at http://www.ensobottles.com/