Sierra Club Sues Coca-Cola, BlueTriton, Niagara Bottling for 'Misleading' Recyclable Claims

The suit is over plastic bottles labeled as 100 percent recyclable, a statement the Sierra Club argues is false.

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SAN FRANCISCO — On June 16, the Sierra Club and its law firm Gutride Safier LLP jointly announced the filing of lawsuits against the Coca-Cola Company (bottler of Dasani), BlueTriton Brands (bottler of Arrowhead, Poland Spring, Deer Park, and Ozarka), and Niagara Bottling (bottler of Niagara and store brands) for misleading consumers by labeling their plastic bottles as “100% Recyclable.” The bottle labels are made of biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP), or “number 5 plastic,” which is not recyclable. In addition, while the bottles themselves are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or “number 1 plastic,” at least 28% of PET plastic that is deposited for recycling is unrecyclable due to contamination and processing loss. Most plastic bottles end up in landfills, incinerators, the ocean, rivers, or littered across the landscape.

Large Default Pull Thru 03The lawsuits, one on behalf of the Sierra Club and the other on behalf of consumers, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, assert that the “100% Recyclable” label violates the California Environmental Marketing Claims Act, which makes it “unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claim, whether explicit or implied.” The lawsuits ask the Court to enjoin use of the “100% Recyclable” label on plastic bottles. The consumer lawsuit also seeks monetary refunds to all purchasers, arguing that the sales volume and prices of the bottled waters were inflated by the false “100% Recyclable” labelling.

A 2020 NPR and PBS Frontline investigation revealed that petrochemical and beverage industry executives have known since the 1970s that there was, and likely never will be, an economically viable way to recycle plastic 100 percent. Because plastic degrades each time it is recycled, it cannot be endlessly recycled into useful products, nor is plastic recycling economical. As a result, American consumers throw away more than 60 million plastic bottles every day.

Quotes are as follows -- 

“Today’s lawsuit is an important step toward ending the unchecked use of plastic that cannot be recycled. This misinformation campaign seriously harms our ability to collectively create a livable planet and a sustainable future,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “These major plastic bottle manufacturers have known for decades that their products aren’t truly recyclable, and the public deserves to know the truth.”

"Consumers care about recycling and it is essential that big companies stop making false and misleading statements about the recyclability of their products. These companies need to move beyond plastic and provide consumers with choices for sustainable packaging," said Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator and President of Beyond Plastics.

“For far too long, the plastic industry has taken advantage of consumer confusion as to what is actually recyclable and what is not. Their exploitation of a broken system must end now,” said Lauren Cullum, Policy Advocate for Sierra Club California.

“What's 100% recyclable is the wish,” said Hoiyin Ip, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club California Zero Waste Committee.

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