DA Announces Settlement with Walmart Over ’Greenwashing’ Claims
Oakland, CA -- Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced today that her office, with 22 other District Attorney’s Offices in California, settled a consumer protection action against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (as well as Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC, and Wal-Mart subsidiary, Jet.com, Inc.). The action was filed in Napa County.
The Complaint alleges that Walmart sold plastic products in stores and online that were misleadingly labeled “biodegradable” or “compostable” in violation of California law.
Plastic waste can take up to a thousand years to decompose, depending on the environment in which it’s disposed. A growing number of marketers have sought to promote the sale of plastic products using misleading claims of biodegradability. Many Californians choose products based on these claims, despite the fact that landfills are oxygen-poor and thus tend to mummify products, rather than allow them to biodegrade.
California Law imposes an outright ban on the sale of plastics labeled “biodegradable” (or labeled with similar language), since such claims are inherently misleading without thorough disclaimers regarding how quickly the product will biodegrade in a landfill or in other environments where it may be disposed. The sale of plastic products labeled “compostable” is also prohibited -- unless the product meets certain scientific standards that ensure the plastic will break down in municipal compost.
“Unfortunately, Californians concerned with reducing plastic waste in landfills are commonly misled to purchase plastic bags and other plastic products based on marketers’ unsubstantiated claims of biodegradability,” said District Attorney O’Malley, “but almost nothing breaks down in a landfill. That’s why the sale of plastic products labeled ‘biodegradable’ is illegal in California and why today’s settlement is a win for both consumers and the environment.”
O’Malley stated that consumers interested in plastic products that will break down in their “green waste bin,” or other container bound for the municipal compost, should look for products that are labeled as having met scientific compostability standards (specifically, a compostable plastics certification called “ASTM D6400”).
The judgment prohibits Walmart from selling plastic products labeled “biodegradable” or with other terms implying the product will break down in a landfill or other environment. Walmart is also prohibited from selling plastic products labeled “compostable” unless a scientific certification supports the claim. Walmart agreed to pay $875,000 in civil penalties and an additional payment of $50,000 to CalRecycle to fund testing of plastic products marketed to consumers as compostable or degradable. Walmart’s recently purchased subsidiary, Jet.com, agreed to pay an additional $15,000 in civil penalties.
The District Attorneys’ offices thank Walmart and Jet.com for their cooperation in implementing significant changes to their websites and at Walmart’s stores in order to stay in compliance with California law. Walmart and Jet.com did not admit liability.
Posted on Feb 1, 2017