Greenpeace filed a lawsuit Dec. 14 challenging Walmart Inc.'s labeling of its private-label plastics packaging as recyclable and asked a California court to order the company to change its claims.
The environmental group filed the lawsuit in California Superior Court in Alameda County, arguing that Walmart's use of recyclability claims on plastics packaging that's hard to recycle violates California consumer protection laws.
"Walmart knows that its customers are concerned about single-use plastics, and has been using misleading labels that falsely claim packaging is recyclable when it is bound for an incinerator or landfill," said John Hocevar, Greenpeace's oceans campaign director. "Until Walmart and other polluting corporations take responsibility for the damage their throwaway plastic is doing to our environment and our communities, the plastic crisis will continue to get worse."
The Bentonville. Ark.-based retailer disputed Greenpeace's lawsuit and said it had been in discussions with the environmental group for several months.
"We deny Greenpeace's allegations and intend to defend the company," Walmart said in a written response. "We previously reviewed these allegations and explained to Greenpeace that the product labeling complies with federal and state laws. Like many other retailers, we rely on labeling developed and validated by our suppliers and sustainability partners, including How2Recycle."
The Greenpeace lawsuit says Walmart should not label packaging and products in its private-label brands made from plastics 3-7 in the resin identification code, including polypropylene, polystyrene and vinyl, as recyclable.
It says those plastics lack viable markets to be recycled into new products, similar to claims Greenpeace made in a February report looking at problems facing U.S. materials recovery facilities.
The lawsuit gave examples of packaging that it said violated marketing claims allowed under the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides, and it said violating FTC guidelines is also a violation of California law.
"A marketer may only make an unqualified recyclable claim if a substantial majority of consumers or communities have access to recycling facilities capable of recycling the items," the lawsuit said. "Because few, if any, consumers have access to recycling facilities capable of recycling the [p]roducts, [d]efendants must provide an unequivocally strong qualification for any recyclability claim regarding such [p]roducts."