A proposed class action lawsuit claims water bottles made by BlueTriton Brands and Niagara Bottling are misleadingly labeled as “100% Recyclable” when the bottles are, in truth, “unsuitable for recycling.”
According to the 20-page lawsuit, the defendants’ water bottles, which are sold under brands such as Poland Spring, Deer Park, Niagara and Costco Kirkland, are made with non-recyclable caps and labels that cannot be processed into usable material. Moreover, the suit claims the defendants are aware that because of most municipal recycling centers’ operating limitations, a significant percentage of the supposedly “100% Recyclable” bottles end up in landfills or are burned, contrary to consumers’ expectations.
“Defendants know that the Products typically end up in landfills or incinerated and are unsuitable for recycling,” the complaint reads. “Thus, Defendants’ representations that the Products are “100% Recyclable” are material, false, misleading and likely to deceive members of the public.”
The lawsuit explains that BlueTriton, formerly Nestlé Waters North America, sells bottled water under the brands Arrowhead, Poland Spring, Ozarka and Deer Park while Niagara sells bottled water under the brands Niagara, Costco Kirkland, Save Mart Sunny Select and Save Mart Market Essentials. The bottles themselves, according to the suit, are made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET, #1 plastic), and the caps are made out of polypropylene (PP, #5 plastic) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2 plastic). The plastic labels that wrap around each bottle are made from biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP), a form of PP, the case says.
Central to the lawsuit is the ability of municipal recycling facilities to process recycled plastic. The complaint explains that although recycling facilities historically shipped plastic scrap to China for recycling, a new policy implemented in 2018 restricted imports of plastic waste and forced U.S. recycling centers to further limit the type and quality of plastic they would accept. Thus, acceptance by a municipal recycling center is no guarantee that the product will end up being recycled, the suit stresses.
The lawsuit concedes that while the PET and HDPE used in the defendants’ bottles and some caps are considered to be the “most recyclable” types of plastic, a significant portion of the water bottles will end up in a landfill or burned due to recycling centers’ limitations. Per the case, a survey conducted by nonprofit environmental organization Greenpeace USA found that as of 2017, U.S. municipal recycling facilities only have the capacity to process about 22.5 percent of the total post-consumer PET waste and 12 percent of the total post-consumer HDPE waste. Moreover, roughly a third of the PET and HDPE plastic collected by recycling facilities cannot be processed into “clean flake” due to contamination and processing losses, according to the suit.
The case goes on to claim that the PP and BOPP plastic used to make some of the caps on the defendants’ water bottles and their plastic labels are considered to be among the least recyclable types of plastic and are, for the most part, sent to landfills or incinerated.
In light of the foregoing, the defendants’ “100% Recyclable” claims are false and misleading given most of the water bottles manufactured and sold by the companies will not end up being recycled, the lawsuit argues.
The complaint cites guidelines published by the Federal Trade Commission in which the agency specifies that “[a] product or package shall not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item.” The FTC further clarified that “[f]or a product to be called recyclable, there must be an established recycling program, municipal or private, through which the product will be converted into, or used in, another product or package,” the complaint states. According to the FTC, therefore, a product cannot be accurately called “recyclable” if there exists no program allowing a consumer to recycle the product, even if the product is technically recyclable, the suit states.
The lawsuit alleges BlueTriton and Niagara have sought to capitalize on consumers’ desire to recycle by marketing and labeling their water bottles as “100% Recyclable” even though the bottles cannot, in reality, be recycled as packaged.
Per the suit, consumers would not have paid as much for the water bottles, or would not have purchased them at all, had they known the products were not 100 percent recyclable as the defendants claimed.
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