A federal judge in New York has ruled in favor of Niagara Bottling LLC in a lawsuit over recyclability marketing claims on PET bottles.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled Aug. 5 that the Ontario, Calif.-based bottled water and soft drink maker could claim on labels that its bottles are "100 percent recyclable," even if some "minor" parts of the packaging are not recyclable.
A key factor, Engelmayer said, is whether recycling facilities are available to a "substantial majority" of consumers.
New York resident Eladia Duchimaza brought the class-action lawsuit last year, arguing that the Niagara bottles should not claim to be "100 percent recyclable."
Her lawsuit specifically identifies labels and bottle caps as not recyclable.
"As such, the representation of '100 percent recyclable' on the products is equally false and misleading," it said.
Originally, Duchimaza purchased the water bottles from Costco, believing they would be completely recyclable.
Niagara sells bottled water under its own name, as well as private-label brands for retailers including Costco Kirkland, Save Mart Sunny Select and Save Mart Market Essentials.
Duchimaza's lawsuit said recycling should be considered turning products that would otherwise be in the trash into something new, and she argued that some of the polypropylene bottle caps and biaxially oriented PP labels on its bottles are incinerated or lost.
She argued that 28 percent of the PET bottles and the high density polyethylene bottle caps sent to recycling centers were lost, contaminated or burned.
"As a result, the products are not '100 percent recyclable,'" Duchimaza argued.
She also argued that Niagara's claims violated the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides, which govern environmental marketing.
Niagara had argued that Duchimaza lacked standing in the case and could not allege a "real or immediate threat" of injury.
Engelmayer rejected the Green Guides arguments in his ruling, saying Niagara Bottling's claims falls into two exemptions. He called the bottle caps and labels minor, incidental components.
"First, marketers may make unqualified recyclable claims provided that 'recycling facilities are available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities where the item is sold.' Second, marketers may make unqualified claims where 'the entire product or packaging, excluding minor incidental components, is recyclable,'" he wrote.
The New York-based court also ruled with prejudice, meaning that Duchimaza cannot refile the case.