Calif. AG sues over plastic water bottles

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 28, 2011, 12:10pm


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris is suing three companies for allegedly making false and misleading claims in marketing their plastic water bottles as "100-percent biodegradable and recyclable."

Harris' office filed its 17-page complaint in Orange County Superior Court Wednesday.

The named defendants are ENSO Plastics LLC, based in Mesa, Ariz.; AquaMantra Inc., based in Dana Point, Calif.; and Balance Water Company LLC, which has offices in Delaware and New Jersey.

In 2008, the California Legislature made the use of words like "biodegradable," "degradable" or "decomposable" illegal when labeling plastic food or beverage containers.

Senate Bill 567, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown this year, will expand the law to all plastic products starting in 2013.

Wednesday's "greenwashing" lawsuit -- as the Attorney General's Office referred to it -- is the first government action taken to enforce the state's environmental marketing law.

"These companies' actions violate state law and mislead consumers," Harris said in a statement. "Californians are committed to recycling and protecting the environment, but these efforts are undermined by the false and misleading claims these companies make when they wrongly advertise their products as 'biodegradable.'"

Balance and AquaMantra sell their products in plastic water bottles marketed by ENSO.

"Defendants claim that these plastic containers completely biodegrade, leaving only natural remains, and that this process completes itself within one to five years, and can take place in a landfill, compost or other environment, including by the side of the road," the attorney general's complaint says.

However, Harris contends that claim is "false, deceptive and misleading to consumers." The additive, the attorney general says, does not speed up process required to break down the plastic.

"Furthermore, California law restricts use of the claim 'biodegradable' on the labeling of plastic beverage containers, as the Legislature determined that this claim is inherently misleading to consumers in reference to a disposable plastic food or beverage container," the complaint says.

The claim of recycling is also deceptive, the Attorney General's Office alleges.

"ENSO states that the bottles are made by adding a specially formulated microbial additive to standard polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, and that the additive will not contaminate the existing curbside and commercial PET recycling stream," the complaint says.

"Items containing degradable additives, however, are considered contaminants by postconsumer plastic recyclers and, where possible, such items are culled out from recyclable plastics."

Harris is asking the superior court to enjoin the defendants from selling in or into California any beverage containers labeled or otherwise marketed as "biodegradable."

Consumers, the attorney general fears, may buy the bottles and either dispose of them incorrectly -- on the assumption they'll biodegrade quickly -- or they will try to recycle them, creating problems and costs for recyclers.

Harris' office pointed to a recent Gallup poll, which found that 76 percent of Americans buy products specifically because they are made to believe the product is better for the environment.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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