Legal, Plastic Pollution
October 28 2011

Attorney General Files Complaint for Deceptive Water Bottle Labeling

by Angela Howe

The environmentally-minded shopper who is looking to "rise above plastics" will study product labels and strive buy products that are least harmful to our oceans, waves and beaches.  However, it has become increasingly difficult to discern between truthful claims and greenwashing by companies that want to merely appear "green".  On October 26, 2011, the California Attorney General acted to protect consumers from falling victim to unsubstantiated claims of environmentally safe packaging.

The California Attorney General sued three national companies for misleading water bottle labels this week.  Attorney General Kamala Harris signed off on a Complaint for Injunction, Civil Penalties and Other Relief on behalf of the People of the State of California. The Complaint points out that the Defendant companies Enso Plastics, Balance Water Company and Aquamantra made claims in marketing their bottles as "biodegradable" and "recyclable".  However, the Complaint points out:

"Defendants claim that these plastic containers completely biodegrade, leaving only natural remains, and that this process completes itself within one to five years...These claims are false, deceptive, and misleading to consumers because the plastic bottles will not biodegrade as claimed...Items containing degradable additives, however, are considered contaminants by postconsumer plastic recyclers and, where possible, such items are culled out from recyclable plastics.  The claim of recylability on these bottles is deceptive and misleading to consumers."

The Complaint cites the 2008 law AB1972 that bans the use of the term "biodegradable" on any plastic food beverage packaging.  The AG also brings suit under the Business & Professions Code for violations involving misleading advertising and unfair competition.

Plastic bottles are not only a cause of the vast amount of plastic litter found in our oceans, but also a single-use item that is needlessly filling our landfills. From the 1970’s through today, it seems almost every liquid beverage comes in a plastic bottle.   In 2006, fewer than 25% of all plastic bottles were recycled nationwide and 3.36 million tons were landfilled or littered in the U.S. alone. Littered plastic bottles can make their way through watersheds and accumulate in local waterways, even leading to the ocean if the proper stormwater controls are not in place.

In a day and age when the threat of greenwashing appears at every turn, Surfrider Foundation commends Attorney General Kamala Harris for ensuring that the accuracy of statements involving environmental impact will recieve closer scrutiny.