Apr 23 - CA AG Settles False Biodegradable Claim Lawsuit

A lawsuit by the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris against two water bottle companies and an additive company has been successfully settled, with the final party reaching an agreement just before a March 25, 2013 hearing.

In October 2011, the AG’s office filed a lawsuit against three companies, Aquamantra, Balance Water and ENSO, for false biodegradability claims on additive-based bottles in violation of CAW-sponsored bioplastic labeling law.

The additives in question are designed to help accelerate the breakdown of plastic materials. But despite common belief, "biodegradable" plastics can take longer than 12 months to break down and most likely never fully degrade. In fact, using the term "biodegradable" on plastic products is inherently misleading since anything is biodegradable given enough time.

In addition, the additives are considered by recyclers to be contaminants in the feedstock and impact the quality of the final recycled product. And any additive based products that incorrectly end up in the compost stream will not break down in those conditions.

After nearly two years, the parties were unable to provide verification of their environmental claims and reached individual settlements with the AG’s office. The companies are required to remove all biodegradability and recyclability claims from their additive based products, pay settlement penalties and fees, and notify their customers according to the settlement terms.

Aquamantra and Balance Water reached settlements in the summer of 2012 and thereafter changed all labels to remove all false claims (picture shows products on store shelves, post-settlement). According to the AG’s office, these companies are no longer using additive-based bottles.

The last party, ENSO, a biodegradable additive company, was scheduled for a trial hearing but also reached a settlement shortly before the hearing date.

In addition to paying penalties and fees, ENSO is required to provide unlimited notification of the state's requirements on biodegradable claims. Every website page that mentions a covered ENSO plastic product must include the notice on the left side of the page. A clearly visible "Important California Notice" must be included on any and all marketing materials, displays, and even invoices. Moreover, future ENSO customers must confirm they have received the notice that biodegradable claims for plastic products are illegal in the state.

The bioplastics labeling law (SB 567) is designed to protect both consumers and the environment, in part by removing additive contaminants from recycling and compost streams and prohibiting the placement of these false claims on plastic products.

CAW is pleased with this success of bioplastic labeling enforcement and will continue to monitor products for false labeling and greenwashing and bring them to the attention of law enforcement.