Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley announced that her office, with 22 other District Attorney’s Offices in California, resolved “greenwashing” cases with Chewy, Inc., PetSmart LLC, Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., and Target Corporation. The cases were based on allegations that the companies sold dog waste bags and other plastic products to California residents, which were marketed with misleading environmental claims regarding their biodegradability.
“Dog lovers who care about the environment are often targeted by deceptive advertising about the environmental benefits of certain single-use plastic bags,” said DA O’Malley. “These settlements are a win for California consumers who want accurate information about the environmental impact of the plastic bags and other plastic products they buy.”
“Greenwashing” is a marketing tool used to deceive or mislead customers to believe that a product is environmentally friendly. As the public becomes more concerned with plastic pollution and single-use plastics, customers are often willing to pay more for products that they believe will help the environment.
Certain dog waste bags are often promoted as “eco-friendly” with claims that the bags are biodegradable or that they break down more easily over time than other plastic bags. This bald claim is deceptive, however, because plastic dog waste bags are typically only appropriate for disposal in landfills, which are designed to prevent biodegradation. The lack of sunlight, moisture and oxygen in a landfill tends to mummify trash, not facilitate biodegradation. To the extent biodegradation does occur in a landfill, the process creates methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Dog waste can’t be composted either, at least not in municipal or industrial composting facilities, because it can contain harmful contaminants (E.Coli). Even in backyard composting, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cautions that pet waste can contain harmful parasites, bacteria, viruses, or pathogens.
Some marketers have also falsely promoted certain plastic bags as “plastic-free,” when in truth, the bags are made from plastic. Retailers that promote such claims on their websites can be liable for violation of false advertising prohibitions, which also bar the sale of plastic products labelled as “biodegradable” or similar terms.
The companies agreed to the following monetary settlements to resolve the matters: Chewy, Inc. ($600,000) Petco Animal Supplies, Inc. ($375,000) PetSmart LLC ($500,000), and Target Corporation ($300,000). Each stipulated judgment also included a court order that prohibits future similar violations. After California prosecutors contacted the four companies regarding sales of these products, each took immediate steps to stop the sales, and cooperated with prosecutors to refine their processes to ensure ongoing compliance with the law and to reach a settlement.