Stating its Case: California Asserts New Law Against Alleged Plastic Bottle Greenwashers


Most public enforcement against alleged greenwashing has been at the federal level by agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., the Advertising Standards Authority in Great Britain, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Now American states are getting into the act, with a recent lawsuit filed by California’s Attorney General Kamala D. Harris involving claims of recyclable, compostable and biodegradable plastic bottles.

The complaint (Cal-ENSO_Complaint), brought on behalf of the people of California, accuses ENSO Plastics (ENSO), Balance Water Company (Balance) , and Aquamantra of making false, deceptive, and misleading claims that plastic bottles which include a particular resin made by ENSO will biodegrade or decompose in a landfill or other environment.

Among the marketing statements by ENSO alleged to be false or misleading and/or unsubstantiated are:

ENSO plastic bottles are “truly biodegradable”

“ENSO bottles biodegrade through natural microbial digestion in both aerobic (compost) and anaerobic (landfill) environments”

“ENSO bottles are recyclable with traditional PET [plastic]”

“Our scientific data supports that ENSO bottles will not contaminate PET recycle streams as the material used does not impact the PET polymer in any way”

According to the complaint, statements on Balance’s bottles such as “100% biodegradable recyclable” and will “break down in a typical landfill or compost environment in less than 5 years” are false or misleading and unsubstantiated.

The complaint cites similar statements by Aquamantra, including “our bottles are made of 100% biodegradable & recyclable plastic” and the bottles “can be composted and will break down in around 240 days.”

The central cause of action in the suit is a recent California state law that banned the use of the terms “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decompostable” in any form in connection with plastic food or beverage containers.

Enacted in 2008, AB 1972, requires that food or beverage containers labeled with the term “compostable” or “marine degradable” must meet certain statutory standards. 

This is the first lawsuit to enforce the new law, which the California legislature said is intended to ensure that:

environmental marketing claims, including claims of biodegradation, do not lead to an increase in environmental harm associated with plastic bag and plastic container litter by providing consumers with a false belief that certain bags and containers are less harmful to the environment if littered.

Along with private consumer actions and public enforcement by federal government agencies, legal action by the states adds another level of enforcement against greenwashers.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.