If you’ve bought disposable Eco bowls, plates or cutlery from Woolworths under the impression you were helping the environment, you may have been misled.
The environmentally-friendly nature of these products has been brought into question after the consumer watchdog launched legal action against the supermarket giant on Friday.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has alleged that “false, misleading or deceptive” environmental claims on the packaging of Woolworths’ home-branded ‘W Select Eco’ range of picnic products have misled Australian shoppers.
The packaging states that the products are made from an unspecified ‘renewable resource’ which The New Daily was informed included corn starch and sugarcane.
The packaging also labelled the products as “biodegradable and compostable”.
ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the use of these two terms contravened Australian Consumer Law as it gave consumers the impression that products would therefore biodegrade and compost “within a reasonable period of time” when disposed of in domestic compost bins or conventional landfill sites in Australia.
The ACCC alleges Woolworths failed to make reasonable efforts to substantiate these claims.
“Customers paid a premium because they rightfully thought the environmental claims would have been substantiated,” ACCC commissioner Ms 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.”
The ACCC claimed Woolworths’ actions were also contrary to its own Environmental Claims Policy, which states: “Environmental claims must be accurate, specific and clear, apply to a real environmental benefit, and not overstate a benefit and be articulated in plain language.”
Ms Court added: “Businesses making environmental claims about their products must take reasonable steps to ensure the benefits are achievable for ordinary Australian consumers”.
A Woolworths spokesman told The New Daily the company was reviewing the ACCC’s claims and considering its next steps.
“At Woolworths 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,” he 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.”
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, publication orders and costs.