Two bottled water companies and a plastic bottle manufacturer are misleading California consumers by claiming their bottles are biodegradable, charged California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris in a lawsuit last week.† The state is suing to immediately remove thousands of bottles of Balance and Aquamantra water made by ENSO plastics from store shelves under California’s new environmental marketing law.
Greenwashing by Bottled Water Companies
Accusations of greenwashing, attempting to make something or some company appear environmentally friendly, against bottled water companies is nothing new. Environmentalists and others have long complained that pretty pictures of mountain streams and idyllic lakes on water bottle labels mislead consumers into thinking that bottled water is safer than tap water and glosses over the environmental impacts of the bottled water industry.
Water Bottles Become Litter and Garbage, Not Recycling
Claims by companies that their bottled water bottle is more eco-friendly than the competition’s isn’t new either. CocaCola, Pepsi, Deer Park, and Evian are among the companies that have a debuted slimmed down or plant-based plastic bottles in order to capture a green marketing edge. But the reality is that single-use beverage containers, which are mostly consumed outside the home, have a dismal recycling rate. Most of these so-called eco-bottles will end up in the garbage or on the side of the road.
Plastic Bottles Do Not Biodegrade and Biodegradable Additives Damage Recycling Systems
Balance and Aquamantra are claiming that their bottles are 100% biodegradable and recyclable and those claims are the subject of the California Lawsuit. The state argues that there’s no evidence that the bottles truly biodegrade or that they will do so in landfills, an environment where newspaper famously survives decades.
“Plastic takes thousands of years to biodegrade and may never do so in a landfill,” explains Attorney General Harris’s press release about the lawsuit.† “Californians are committed to recycling and protecting the environment, but these efforts are undermined by the false and misleading claims these companies make when they wrongly advertise their products as ‘biodegradable,’” charges Harris.
What’s more, the additive that supposedly enhances biodegradability disrupts plastics recycling plants and has the potential to wreak havoc around the state. “Even in small percentages, like one-tenth of one percent, these are just catastrophic for us,” Ed Byrne, CEO of Peninsula Packaging in Visalia told the Mercury News.† “They melt at different temperatures. They ruin our products.”
New California Law Means the State Can Stop Bottled Water Greenwashing
The Truthful Environmental Advertising of Plastics law that California Governor Brown signed this fall expressly prohibits labeling plastic bottles or food containers as “biodegradable.” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste explains: “We are not adding nutrients to the soil when these things break down. We are simply breaking the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces so it can’t be seen.”
ENSO Plastics is contesting the suit: “We stand behind our technology and the claims that our company makes in stating that standard plastics enhanced with our biodegradable additive are fully recyclable and if placed in an environment with microbes, will naturally biodegrade,” president Danny Clark said in a statement.
What do you think?
Do you consider the environment in purchasing decisions? How should we hold companies accountable for their environmental claims?
Images of bottled water used in illustration are courtesy of the California Attorney General's office.