California consumers sue over plastic bottles’ ‘deceptive’ recycling labels

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California consumers and the Sierra Club have sued the Coca-Cola Company and other companies that sell leading bottled-water brands in San Francisco federal court, accusing them in separate lawsuits of deceiving consumers in the state by claiming their bottles are “100% recyclable” while they are not.

Oaklander David Swartz and two other California residents in a class action lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also accuse BlueTriton Brands Inc and Niagara Bottling of violating the California Business and Professions Code (CBPC) because U.S. recycling facilities lack the capacity to recycle the types of plastic that make up the main parts of their single-use water bottles labeled as fully recyclable.

The Sierra Club filed a separate lawsuit making similar allegations also on Wednesday.

Coca-Cola spokesperson Ann Moore said the company does not comment on pending litigation. BlueTriton and Niagara did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Coca-Cola is the manufacturer of water brand Dasani; BlueTriton bottles Arrowhead and Poland Spring among other brands; while Niagara makes its eponymous bottled water brand and store brands.

The class action complaint claims that the companies deceive consumers because U.S. recycling facilities only have the capacity to recycle about 23% of the plastics used to make the bottles and sometimes their caps, namely polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The remaining is sent to landfills or incinerated, the plaintiffs allege.

The CBPC makes it “unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claim.”

Packaging that markets bottles as 100% recyclable “falsely informs consumers that they are making an environmentally responsible choice,” the class complaint says.

The class plaintiffs, represented by law firm Gutride Safier, propose a class of people who from June 2017 through the present purchased the defendants’ products in California.

They ask the court to prohibit the sale of the defendants’ plastic-bottled water unless their marketing as 100% recyclable is removed from the products. And they seek the restitution of a “price premium” tied to the alleged misrepresentation.

The Sierra Club, which is also represented by Gutride Safier, also asks the court to forbid the companies from marketing their plastic water bottles as entirely recyclable.

Two lawsuits making similar allegations over the recyclability of plastic products are pending in the same federal court district.

One lawsuit that Greenpeace filed last year claims retail giant Walmart Inc violates the CBPC by marketing and selling single-use, house-brand plastic products marked as recyclable that are in fact not.

The other is a class action by customers in California of Keurig Green Mountain’s single-serving coffee pods who allege the company misled them by falsely marketing the product as recyclable in most recycling facilities. The class was certified in September.

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