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Greenpeace Sues Walmart for Misleading Product Labels

— December 28, 2020

Advocacy group contends Walmart’s product packaging is misleading consumers.

Greenpeace has filed a lawsuit in California’s Alameda County Superior Court against Walmart, accusing the national retailer of falsely labeling items as recyclable when they’re actually made of plastic that cannot be reused.  The filing concerns Walmart’s recycling labels for packaging made from plastics Nos. 3-7 and includes examples such as applesauce, fruit and yogurt cups.  It contends the How2Recycle identifiers on these products are misleading, because they are “leading consumers to believe products will be recycled, despite low capacity to recycle these materials in the U.S.”

The lawsuit adds, “In their haste to lure customers to environmentally friendly products and packaging, Defendants are making environmental marketing claims that are false, misleading, and deceptive.”  The advocacy group insists Walmart’s marketing violates California consumer protection laws, including the California Environmental Marketing Claims Act (EMCA) and is seeking to have the retailer change its labeling and conduct a “corrective advertising campaign.”

Greenpeace Sues Walmart for Misleading Product Labels
Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

Greenpeace’s campaign director John Hocevar said, “Walmart knows that its customers are concerned about single-use plastics and has been using misleading labels that falsely claim packaging is recyclable when it is bound for an incinerator or landfill.  Until Walmart and other polluting corporations take responsibility for the damage their throwaway plastic is doing to our environment and our communities, the plastic crisis will continue to get worse.  It is time for Walmart to end its reliance on single-use plastic and shift toward systems of reuse that truly address the pollution crisis.”

A Walmart spokesperson responded, “We previously reviewed these allegations and explained to Greenpeace that the product labeling complies with federal and state laws.  Like many other retailers, we rely on labeling developed and validated by our suppliers and sustainability partners, including How2Recycle.  We deny Greenpeace’s allegations and intend to defend the company.”  Walmart also stated it has plans to convert its own brand to packing that is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

“As an initial matter, the fine print is approximately 2-point font, making it difficult for consumers to notice, yet alone read,” the complaint states.  Additionally, Greenpeace cites previous cases of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) determining the “check locally” disclaimer is misguided.

The complaint includes general data on the detrimental impact of unrecyclable plastics on the environment in recent years, stating, “In the past decade humans across the globe have produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, most of it in disposable products and packaging that ends up as trash or pollution.  Of the 8.3 billion metric tons produced, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste and only 9% of that has been recycled.  A third of the single-use plastic generated ends up in the natural environment, accounting for 100 million metric tons of plastic pollution in 2016.  Current estimates suggest that there are over 150 million tons of plastics in the ocean.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans alone disposed of more than million tons of plastic in 2014, most of which was not recycled. While California had a goal to achieve a 75% recycling rate by 2020, California’s recycling rate is actually in decline.”

The advocacy group believes a big contributor to this decline is labeling that essentially tricks consumers into believing they are helping when the products they’re buying are actually making matters worse.


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