An environmental group is challenging a massively popular bottled water company, alleging deception in marketing regarding sustainability.
Bottled water has become the beverage of choice in the United States, passing soda a few years ago. But with that popularity comes additional scrutiny regarding the use of single-use plastics.
Earth Island Institute of Berkeley, Calif., which describes itself as a nonprofit group, filed legal action against BlueTriton Brands, the relatively new owners of the bottled water business formerly known as Nestle Waters North America.
Earth Island is essentially accusing BlueTriton of greenwashing in an action filed in the Civil Division of Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
BlueTriton, which acquired the bottled water business from Nestle in April, includes such well-known national and regional brands as Poland Springs, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Arrowhead and Pure Life.
Earth Island is using a Washington, D.C., law to challenge BlueTriton by claiming the company is in violation of the district's Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
The nonprofit group is not seeking monetary damages or class-action status with its legal action. Instead, Earth Island wants a ruling stating the company is off base in its sustainability claims.
Without any monetary damages being sought, this is literally a war of words.
"BlueTriton's marketing is false and deceptive because the company portrays itself as being sustainable and committed to reducing plastic pollution through its recycling targets while falling short of those targets and continuing its environmentally harmful practices," the lawsuit alleges.
The legal action also claims BlueTriton's "practices are unsustainable and environmentally harmful."
"Contrary to BlueTriton's representations, the company is far from what consumers would understand to be a sustainable and environmentally friendly business. … BlueTriton's immense plastic contributions are intrinsically damaging to the environment," the group alleges.
While Earth Island Institute filed a 29-page document making allegations, BlueTriton responded with two paragraphs:
"At BlueTriton Brands, our resolve to lead the industry in water stewardship and sustainable packaging, including the use of recycled PET plastic, has never been stronger. This commitment is evident through initiatives such as our certification of 16 of our 27 production facilities under the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard, as well as investments in and collaborations with organizations like the Closed Loop Fund and The Recycling Partnership to help increase recycling capabilities and improve access across the U.S.," according to a company statement.
"Importantly, BlueTriton Brands complies with all relevant federal and state consumer protection laws. While we do not typically comment on pending litigation, we are reviewing the lawsuit and will address the claims in the appropriate forum," the statement reads.
Earth Island Institute, meanwhile, alleges in the legal action: "The entire life cycle of plastic presents serious risks to human health."
"BlueTriton is categorically not a sustainable company and misleads consumers in presenting itself as such," the legal action alleges.
This is the second high-profile lawsuit alleging sustainability deception in recent months.
A California group, the Last Beach Cleanup, has gone after TerraCycle Inc. and a litany of consumer brands in a complaint in California Superior Court in Alameda County. That complaint questions the scope and effectiveness of recycling programs TerraCycle offers on behalf of consumer products for hard-to-recycle packaging. The plaintiffs allege participation in TerraCycle programs is limited and also question whether material sent to TerraCycle is actually recycled.
"Despite defendants' marketing and advertising of the products as recyclable, most of the products typically end up in landfills, incinerators, communities or the natural environment. Defendants' representations that the products are recyclable are material, false, misleading and likely to deceive members of the public," the complaint alleges.
TerraCycle issued a statement Sept. 9 when asked to respond to the allegations.
"TerraCycle stands by its recycling promise and believes the claims in the suit are false and grossly exaggerated," the company said.
"Our mission has always been to 'Eliminate the Idea of Waste,' and we further this commitment through our partnerships with leading global NGOs, charities and organizations. TerraCycle has been working in good faith with the party who brought the lawsuit as their end goals are the same as ours: to address the world's current waste crisis," the statement reads.
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