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Green Building News

Walmart Fined in Greenwashing Case

According to a group of district attorneys in California, labels on plastic products were misleading to consumers

Walmart will pay $875,000 in civil penalties over misleading labels. Another $50,000 will go toward state testing of plastic products.
Image Credit: Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

The case against the country’s biggest retailer involved labels on plastic products that erroneously claimed the products were biodegradable or compostable, according to an article posted by Plastic News.

The settlement included civil penalties of $875,000 plus another $50,000 to help pay for state testing of plastic products. Jet.com, a Walmart subsidiary, agreed to pay $15,000 in civil penalties.

The case involved 23 district attorneys in California. One of them, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, said that the Walmart labels would mislead consumers into thinking the products would break down once they were landfilled.

“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,” O’Malley said in a statement. “But almost nothing breaks down in a landfill. That’s why the sale of plastic products labeled ‘biodegradable’ is illegal in California.”

A statement posted by O’Malley’s office said that plastic waste can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

“A growing number of marketers have sought to promote the sale of plastic products using misleading claims of biodegradability,” the statement said. “Many Californians choose products based on these claims, despite the fact that landfills are oxygen-poor and thus tend to mummify the products rather than allow them to biodegrade.”

Consumers who want plastic products that actually will break down should look for products labeled as having met scientific compostability standards, specifically the ASTM D6400 standard, her office said.

Despite the big payout, there are apparently no hard feelings on either side. Plastic News said that the district attorneys thanked Walmart and Jet.com for their cooperation and for making changes in product labeling. Likewise, Walmart said it was “appreciative” of state district attorneys for working with the company, the website Environmental Leader reported.

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