California Attorney General Kamala Harris has filed suit against bottled-water companies Aquamantra Inc. and Balance Water Co., and their bottle supplier, Enso Plastics, charging that the companies' claims that their bottles biodegrade are false.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 26 in Orange County Superior Court, seeks to have the bottles pulled off retail shelves in the state.
The issue of biodegradable plastics has been a bone of contention for plastics recyclers for more than two years, with both the National Association for PET Container Resources, and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers challenging the suppliers' claims. Neither APR nor NAPCOR is party to the suit. However, the suit estimates PET recycling is a $100 million business in California, and argues that the bio-bottles represent a contamination threat to that industry.
Harris said labeling on the Aquamantra and Balance Water bottles describes them as “biodegradable,” but the claims are not supported by evidence, and it misleads consumers into thinking they can responsibly dispose of them in backyard composting or a landfill.
“Consumers are led to believe they are being environmentally friendly by choosing these bottles. In fact, they could be further damaging our natural resources,” Harris said in a news release.
All three companies defended their products. Danny Clark, president of Enso Bottles LLC in Mesa, Ariz., said he understands the law is designed to prevent greenwashing but doesn't agree that banning “the use of proper labeling of packages is a step toward solving that problem.”
“We believe consumers should be allowed to know if their product packaging is biodegradable, and if so, be provided with the details of how and in what environments the packaging will biodegrade,” Clark said via email.
He said the law allows the labeing of “compostable” packaging — a competing technology. “It makes one question the true intent behind the law,” he said.
Aquamantra President Alexandra Teklak said, “There is 100 percent evidence to support the claim and we have sent that to the attorney general.” But she said, “Our next run of labels will not have the word ‘biodegradable.' “ Aquamantra of Dana Point, Calif., was the first bottler to begin using Enso's additive, in June 2009.
Balance Water of New York also will remove the word “biodegradable” from its bottles. “We thought we were doing something great for the environment,” Chalk said.
All three defendants support the scientific testing behind Enso's biodegradability claims. But the Biodegradable Products Institute contracted its own tests on Aquamantra's bottle, one of which reportedly showed it does not degrade at all after 45 days.
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said the bottles cost consumers more, fill up landfills like any bottle and won't degrade in the ocean.