The consumer watchdog is taking legal action against Woolworths over allegation that the supermarket giant made misleading representations about its ‘W Select eco’ picnic products.
Between November 2014 and November 2017, Woolworths labelled its disposable bowls, plates and cutlery as ‘Biodegradable & Compostable’, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says the claims could be in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.
The ACCC alleges that Woolworths represented to consumers that the products would biodegrade and compost within a reasonable period of time when disposed of in domestic compost bins or conventional landfill sites in Australia. The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths failed to make reasonable or adequate efforts to substantiate these biodegradability and compostability claims.
“Customers paid a premium because they rightfully thought the environmental claims would have been substantiated,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said. “The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths made these claims in circumstances where it was aware there was confusion among consumers and businesses about the meaning of biodegradable and compostable.
“One of the suppliers of the W Select eco line also had significant qualifications on its website about the biodegradability and compostability of its products. Despite all these matters, Woolworths made the representations without explanation or qualification.”
The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths acted contrary to its own Environmental Claims Policy, which stated that: ‘Environmental claims must be accurate, specific and clear; apply to a real environmental benefit; not overstate a benefit and be articulated in plain language.’
“Businesses making environmental claims about their products must take reasonable steps to ensure the benefits are achievable for ordinary Australian consumers,” Ms Court said.
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, publication orders and costs.
Woolworths responded by saying it was reviewing the ACCC’s claims and considering its next steps.
“We’re committed to doing the right thing for the environment and continue to work hard to drive initiatives that help both us and our customers minimise our impact on the environment,” a spokesperson said. “We treat our obligations under the Australian Consumer Law very seriously, and understand how important it is that environmental claims are clear and accurate for our customers.
“Following enquiries from the ACCC, we took the precautionary step of voluntarily withdrawing the products from sale in November 2017 so that we could carefully consider the concerns raised.”
Staying clear of greenwash
It’s no secret that some so-called ‘green’ products may not be that green at all! With company greenwash bombarding the supermarket shelves, it’s important to not get caught up in the green colours and logos and consider the product as it is. Re-usable ceramic plates over paper plates are an obvious alternative for long-term positive impact.
If you’re aiming to lower your environmental footprint, don’t just consider one item such as paper plates or plastic bags, but instead your overall lifestyle. The bottom line is that greener lifestyle choices involve finding alternatives. It also requires you to be attentive on how you use the materials in order to not introduce more chemicals into the environment.