Sierra Club Sues Coca-Cola and Others Over Recyclability Claims

June 16, 2021: Today, the Sierra Club  against Coca-Cola and other plastic bottle manufacturers for misleading consumers by labeling their plastic bottles as “100% Recyclable.” 

The bottle labels are made of biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP), or “number 5 plastic,” which is not recyclable. In addition, while the bottles themselves are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or “number 1 plastic,” at least 28% of PET plastic that is deposited for recycling is unrecyclable due to contamination and processing loss. In any event, most plastic bottles are not actually recycled, but instead end up in landfills, incinerators, the ocean, rivers, or littered across the landscape.

A 2020 NPR and PBS Frontline investigation revealed that petrochemical and beverage industry executives have known since the 1970s that there was not, and likely never will be, an economically viable way to recycle plastic 100 percent. Because plastic degrades each time it is recycled, it cannot be endlessly recycled into useful products, nor is plastic recycling economical. As a result, American consumers throw away more than 60 million plastic bottles every day.

The Sierra Club’s lawsuit, along with another on behalf of consumers, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  It alleges that the “100% Recyclable” label violates the California Environmental Marketing Claims Act, which makes it “unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claim, whether explicit or implied.” The lawsuits ask the Court to enjoin use of the “100% Recyclable” label on plastic bottles. The consumer lawsuit also seeks monetary refunds to all purchasers, arguing that the sales volume and prices of the bottled waters were inflated by the false “100% Recyclable” labelling.

The Sierra Club and consumers are represented in this litigation by the law firm Gutride Safier LLP. Read the official Sierra Club press release here, and find more case updates on our website here.