The State Attorney General of Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against Walmart Inc. and Reynolds Consumer Products Inc. (the owner of the trash bag trademark “Hefty”) for falsely marketing their plastic bags as recyclable. The Complaint alleges violations of Minnesota’s Prevention of Consumer Fraud Protection Act, Deceptive Trade Practices Act, False Statement in Advertising Act, and deceptive environmental marketing claim regulations.
These statutes utilize language explicitly prohibiting the use and dissemination of false, deceptive, or misleading statements. For example, Minnesota’s False Statement in Advertising Act strictly prohibits advertising that contains any material assertion, representation, or statement of fact that is untrue, deceptive, or misleading. Minnesota’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act further states:
“A person engages in a deceptive trade practice when …the person … represents that goods or services have sponsorship, approval, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or quantities that they do not have….” (emphasis added).
Defendants, through their product labeling, advertised their products as recyclable, which was false. In addition, their actions disqualified the recyclable contents of the plastic bags from being recycled. In Minnesota, when recyclable materials or products are placed in non-recyclable bags on the curb, waste management will render the contents of the entire bag unrecyclable, leading both the bag and its contents to end up in landfills.
Additionally, the Complaint alleges deceptive environmental marketing claims by Walmart, citing the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTCs”) Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (also referred to as the “Green Guides”). The Green Guides state, “it is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is recyclable. A product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item.” Minnesota recycling facilities cannot process the Hefty brand plastic trash bags labeled as recyclable); in fact, they can cause machine malfunctions and even serious damage.
The Complaint asked the court to order a stop on the sale of these products as marketed. Further, the Complaint requests that the court order the defendants to fund a program to educate Minnesota residents about recyclable materials.
This is not the only lawsuit related to Hefty’s recycling bags. Last year Connecticut’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Reynolds, alleging the company has falsely and deceptively marketed the same Hefty recycling at issue in the Minnesota case. The Complaint states that Reynolds has marketed and sold these bags “despite full knowledge that their bags were incompatible with recycling facilities in Connecticut.” This case is still being litigated.