California AG Sues Water Bottle Companies over Biodegradability Claims

October 26, 2011

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed a “greenwashing” lawsuit on Wednesday against three companies alleged to have made false and misleading claims by marketing plastic water bottles as “100 percent biodegradable and recyclable.”

It is illegal under California law to label a plastic food or beverage container as biodegradable.

Plastic takes thousands of years to biodegrade and may never do so in a landfill, and Wednesday’s lawsuit is the first government action to enforce the state’s landmark environmental marketing law, according to Harris.

“These companies’ actions violate state law and mislead consumers,” said in a stateement. “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.'”

Balance and AquaMantra sell their products in plastic water bottles marketed by ENSO Plastics LLC. According to the label, ENSO claims that a microbial additive created the “first truly biodegradable and recyclable” plastic bottle. The bottles’ labeling states that the bottles will break down in less than five years in a typical landfill or compost environment, but that claim is false because the additive does not speed up the centuries-long process required to break down plastic.

The claim of recycling is also deceptive. The microbial additive put into the bottle is considered by the Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers to be a “destructive contaminant” that can compromise the strength of the products they make, according to Harris.

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, Harris states.

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.

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