A California environmental group announced June 6 that it is suing two grocery chains in the state, alleging that they're violating state law by selling reusable plastic bags with recyclability claims.
The Last Beach Cleanup said the two stores, Gelson's Markets and Stater Bros. Markets, are violating state laws because the bags are not easily recyclable in California and because consumers are confused by their environmental labeling.
The lawsuits were filed in California state courts and come amid other plastics recyclability legal actions there.
A separate class-action lawsuit was filed in late April in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, making similar plastic bag recyclability claims against the drugstore chain Walgreen Co., which has nearly 600 stores in the state.
As well, an unrelated lawsuit is moving through state courts, brought by the California-based Earth Island Institute, against 10 large consumer product companies over environmental impacts from their plastic packaging.
A San Mateo County judge in that case ruled on May 31 that it can proceed in state courts. The companies had sought to move that lawsuit to federal courts.
The legal actions are making California into a key battleground over recyclability labeling.
Late last year, an advisory board to the state Legislature, the California Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling, made a similar push around plastic bag and film recyclability claims, asking California Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate.
The founder of the LBC, Jan Dell, is a member of that commission and was active on its effort to get Bonta and other state officials to look into the issue.
In April, Bonta launched a broad investigation into plastics industry recyclability claims.
The most recent lawsuit from the Last Beach Cleanup hones in on plastic bag and film recyclability claims, arguing that it can be a "wild goose chase with no benefit" to find stores with bag recycling drop-offs in the state.
"Mixed post-consumer plastic film waste is contaminated and worthless," the group said in a statement. "Few takeback bins exist and there is scant proof that collected post-consumer materials are actually recycled into new products."
As well, the group argues that labeling on the bags confuses consumers into putting them into curbside recycling bins, where they can contaminate those material streams and cause sorting equipment to jam.
The Last Beach Cleanup led a lawsuit last year against recycling company TerraCycle Inc. and several consumer product brands over recyclability labeling claims. That case was settled with the companies agreeing to change some labels and implement a supply chain certification program.