Pressure for Truth in Packaging Over False Recycling and Composting Claims

Zero Waste Humboldt logo

by Maggie Gainer, Zero Waste Humboldt


As consumers become more aware of the constant growth of single use plastics in the worldwide marketplace and the significant role that plastic production and disposal play in global warming, we have become vulnerable to misleading claims of recyclability and compostability on store shelves.

Much plastic packaging,
like this broth container,
cannot be recycled despite packaging claims.

Zero Waste and environmental organizations have called, “Enough!” and are investigating misleading claims, naming the biggest culprits, and following up with lawsuits. In 2018, Keurig was sued in a class action complaint for the recycling label on its coffee pods. In December 2020, Greenpeace sued Walmart because of its misleading recycling labels on Numbers 3-7 plastic packaging. The most recent action targets TerraCycle, the poster child for eco-groovy marketing. The action focuses on the tricky packaging labels that TerraCycle brand partners use. Lauded for its packaging take-back/mail-in programs, Terra Cycle’s strict participation limits prohibit most consumers from participating in their recycling programs.


Leading all three lawsuits, is San Francisco-based Lexington Law Group. Its website, summarizes these 3 cases.

In a San Jose Mercury News op-ed piece last month, environmentalist Julie Packard points out that while most U.S. businesses have suffered the past year, Big Oil’s single-use plastic production has accelerated growth unabated. “Even as we learn more about the pervasive environmental problems with single-use plastic, industry is making more of it than ever before. Of the 6.3 billion tons of plastic that people have used and thrown away, only 9% has been recycled. That number shows no sign of increasing.” She also asserts that once the mounting evidence on plastic pollution’s impact on human health is fully assessed, it will be reframed as an environmental justice issue.


What can we do?
1. Recognize that all packaging that is multi-material, regardless of green claims on the package, is DTR or difficult-to-recycle. In the redwood coast region, this generally means it’s trash.  Do not contaminate your curbside recycling container with it.

  1. Remember the old 3 Rs. Recycling is the last priority. Reuse systems have much less environmental impact. Adopt shopping habits with returnable bottles and your own containers, bags, bottles, cartons. 
  2. If you must use single use packaging, seek nonplastics — paper and other fibers.
  3. Notify your local, state, and federal elected leaders that plastic pollution is too serious for them to ignore. California and several states – led by Maine – have proposed or passed legislation that requires the industry producers of plastic pollution to pay.
  4. Join Zero Waste Humboldt’s public education efforts: