When you buy something that says it’s “biodegradable” or “compostable,” you expect it to be just that. But that wasn’t necessarily the case at some California Walmart stores, where the big box retailer has agreed to pay $1 million to resolve claims that it sold misleadingly labeled items.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office announced the settlement Wednesday, putting an end to allegations from 23 district attorneys that Walmart — and its e-commerce arm Jet.com — sold plastic products in stores and online that were misleadingly labeled “biodegradable” or “compostable” in violation of California law.
Under California law, companies are prohibited from selling plastics labeled as biodegradable, or with similar language unless it includes clear disclaimers on how quickly the product will biodegrade in a landfill or other area where it may be disposed. Additionally, the sale of products labeled “compostable” is prohibited unless it meets certain standards that ensure 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,” Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement. “But almost nothing breaks down in a landfill.”
Customers looking for compostable products that will break down as expected are urged to look for items with the certification “ASTM D6400.”
As part of the settlement, for which the two companies did not admit liability, Walmart will 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. Jet.com will pay an additional $15,000 in civil penalties.
Additionally, the companies are prohibited from selling plastic products labeled as biodegradable or other terms that imply the product will bread down in a landfill, and prohibited from labeling products as compostable if they don’t include scientific certification to support the claim.