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Plastics | 15 September 2022

Plastics on trial: a briefing series on evolving liability risks related to plastics 1) Greenwashing
Climate litigation

PDF | 646 kb

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Plastics on trial: a briefing series on evolving liability risks related to plastics 1) Greenwashing

In this Brief, we explore a rising trend in legal action challenging ‘sustainability’ claims linked to plastics.

  • As citizen concern around plastic pollution skyrockets, so do too sustainability claims linked to plastics – some of which may not stand up to scrutiny. Common product-specific plastic-related statements that have been criticized as ‘greenwashing’ include claims relating to recyclability and biodegradability of plastics.
  • In the US and Canada, consumers have filed class action lawsuits against big name consumer companies (Keurig, BlueTriton and the Coca-Cola Company), alleging that claims regarding the ‘recyclability’ of products are misleading in light of low rates of recycling achieved in practice.
  • Both environmental and consumer protection NGOs have been active in the US and the EU. In addition to challenging ‘recyclability’ claims, NGOs have launched cases challenging claims of carbon neutrality attached to plastic products, as well as ‘corporate reputational advertising’ of big plastic polluters, relating to claims about the sustainability of their businesses.
  • This doesn’t just affect consumers. Companies have also brought claims against competitors, alleging that misleading claims have given them an unfair advantage, and shareholders in the US have also launched cases against companies and their directors for exaggerating their environmental performance, including two lawsuits against a plastics manufacturer for claiming its product was biodegradable.
  • Increased concern about greenwashing has not escaped the attention of regulators, who have committed to crackdown on the issue using stricter guidelines and robust enforcement action. This could make cases like these easier to bring – as well as result in fines being issued by enforcement bodies independently.

Read Brief 2) Hazardous chemicals.

Read Brief 3) In the environment.

Read Brief 4) Waste disposal & recycling.