California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed a lawsuit against three companies over claims that they misled consumers by marketing plastic water bottles as biodegradable. Harris filed the lawsuit in the Orange County Superior Court on October 26 against ENSO Plastics, Balance Water and AquaMantra. Balance and Aquamantra sell plastic water bottles marketed by ENSO as being biodegradable.
California passed a law in 2008 that made it illegal to label a plastic food or beverage container as biodegradable. The lawsuit is the first government action to enforce the law. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law this year which will expand the law to all plastic products starting in 2013.
“These companies’ actions violate state law and mislead consumers,” Harris said. “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.'”
The complaint alleges that ENSO, Balance Water and AquaMantra have made and continue to make “false, deceptive, and/or misleading advertising and marketing claims with respect to its “biodegradable” beverage containers, without competent and reliable evidence to substantiate those claims.”
An ENSO company brochure claims that ENSO “plastics will biodegrade in both aerobic and anaerobic environments” thanks to a microbial additive. The bottles’ labeling states that the bottles will break down in less than five years in a typical landfill.
The companies stand behind biodegradable claims
ENSO’s website contains a disclaimer on the bottom which mentions the California law. In a statement posted on the website, the company’s president, Danny Clark said that ENSO “is unable to comment specifically about the details of any such lawsuit as we have not had the opportunity to read the lawsuit.”
Clark went on to say, in the statement, that the company stands “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.” Clark did say that ENSO will work with Harris “to comply with the labeling law.”
Alexandra Teklak, Aquamantra president, said in a statement appearing on the company’s website, “At this time the controversy surrounding ENSO Bottles has created a pathway to encourage us to step away from using their products.” In the next sentence Teklak states that Aquamantra has “always believed and continue to agree with the biodegradability of our bottles, due to proven scientific evidence. However, because of the lawsuit, the company is “also interested in cooperating with the Attorney General with regards to the labeling laws in California.”
Although Teklak said in the statement that Aquamantra’s products will continue to be sold in other states, she said that the company is “looking to reverse our enthusiastic approach to biodegradable bottles and move back towards regular PET Bottles and/or RPET Bottles.”
“At the end of the day, we will be compliant with the state of California,” Martin Chalk, a co-founder at Balance Water said. “We will either remove the word or go back to regular, conventional non-biodegradable bottles.”
Photo: Flickr user, Klearchos Kapoutsis