Walmart has agreed to pay $1 million to settle greenwashing claims that allege the nation’s largest retailer sold plastic products that were misleadingly labeled “biodegradable” or “compostable” in violation of California law.
“We are pleased to resolve this matter with the California district attorneys and are appreciative of them as they have worked with us on this issue,” a Walmart spokesperson told Environmental Leader in an email. “Sustainability is a priority for us, and we have been recognized as a retail leader in this space. We’re proud of the enhancements we have made to help ensure that the products we sell to California customers are in line with the state’s guidance on biodegradable labeling.”
The state law bans on the sale of plastics labeled “biodegradable” (or labeled with similar language). California environmental officials have determined such claims are inherently misleading without disclaimers about how quickly the product will biodegrade in a landfill or in other environments where it may be disposed.
The sale of plastic products labeled “compostable” is also prohibited — unless the product meets certain scientific standards that ensure the plastic will break down in municipal compost.
“Unfortunately, Californians concerned with reducing plastic waste in landfills are commonly misled to purchase plastic bags and other plastic products based on marketers’ unsubstantiated claims of biodegradability,” said Alameda county district attorney Nancy O’Malley, “but almost nothing breaks down in a landfill. That’s why the sale of plastic products labeled ‘biodegradable’ is illegal in California and why today’s settlement is a win for both consumers and the environment.”
O’Malley and 22 other California district attorney’s offices brought the case against Walmart.
Under the settlement Walmart agreed to pay $875,000 in civil penalties and an additional payment of $50,000 to CalRecycle to fund testing of plastic products marketed to consumers as compostable or degradable. Walmart’s recently purchased subsidiary, Jet.com, will pay an additional $15,000 in civil penalties.
The judgment prohibits Walmart from selling plastic products labeled “biodegradable” or with other terms implying the product will break down in a landfill or other environment. It also prohibits Walmart from selling plastic products labeled “compostable” unless a scientific certification supports the claim.
California’s action against Walmart follows the Federal Trade Commission’s ongoing crackdown on false and misleading environmental claims, including five enforcement actions that specifically address biodegradable plastic claims.