Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss in Colgate Toothpaste Greenwashing Case

A suit alleging that the Colgate-Palmolive Company (“Colgate”) misrepresented toothpaste tubes as recyclable will be allowed to proceed, the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on February 6, 2024.

The case, Della v. Colgate-Palmolive Company, 2024 WL 457798, concerns recycling claims featured by the company’s Colgate and Tom’s of Maine-branded toothpaste tubes.  Made entirely of plastic, these tubes are theoretically less difficult to recycle than “traditional” toothpaste tubes.  The plaintiffs allege, however, that these claims would mislead a reasonable consumer.  According to the plaintiffs, the tubes are universally rejected by recycling facilities because facilities are unable to distinguish between Colgate’s tubes and traditional tubes and because the tubes cannot be fully emptied of toothpaste, which acts as a contaminant in the recycling process.

Colgate moved to dismiss, arguing that its claims were not misleading because the composition of its toothpaste tubes is compatible with a recycling stream that is available to most Californians.  In other words, the recyclability claims were accurate because the tubes are intrinsically capable of being recycled even if they are not recycled every time they are placed in a recycling bin.  Colgate also pointed to a statement on the packaging inviting consumers to “learn more” on their websites, which provided more comprehensive information about the products’ recyclability.

Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero rejected Colgate’s arguments.  Common sense would not lead a consumer to believe that a product labelled as recyclable would not be recyclable anywhere, he said.  He also stated that the invitation for consumers to learn more online would not remedy a misleading statement on the packaging, writing that “courts are generally reluctant to charge a reasonable consumer with the obligation of reviewing product websites or other written product materials before purchasing the product.”

More information on the case can be found in a previous Verdant Law blog post.