Keurig Sued Over Advertised “Recyclability” of Coffee Pods

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Keurig Sued Over Advertised “Recyclability” of Coffee Pods
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Keurig is facing a class action lawsuit after a California class of consumers was officially certified and approved by U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam in Oakland, California. This lawsuit alleges that Keurig advertised false claims regarding the recyclability of their beverage pods.

Keurig pods are made from polypropylene, a #5 plastic.

Although these pods are made from polypropylene, a #5 plastic generally considered to be recyclable, due to the small size and low weight of the pods, many Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) including those in California cannot recycle the pods. In fact, there are currently no MRFs in the country that are equipped to recycle these pods as is. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Keurig tells consumers they do not need to remove the pod’s filters made from paper before recycling, which causes contamination and yet another obstacle to being successfully recyclable.

Keurig attempted to fend off the lawsuit, citing that their labels direct consumers to “check locally” about recycling the pods.

However, the class in question replied to this dismissal attempt with the argument that Keurig’s pods are not recyclable through any MRF in the United States; if this is true, it casts the label’s implication in the light of false advertising. Keurig’s argument that just because the pods are not recyclable in the U.S. does not mean they cannot be recycled anywhere, seems to be in direct violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides. This attempt at dismissal by the home beverage company only fueled the fire that led to the class action being approved.

The Federal Trade Commission issues advice in the form of The Green Guides for how manufacturers should communicate their products’ recyclability.

According to The Green Guides, a company should only list their product as recyclable if at least 60% of the consumers purchasing the item have access to MRFs that can actually recycle that product. This is currently one of the primary arguments against Keurig’s labeling of their pod products, leading Judge Haywood Gilliam to suggest that Keurig’s communication of the pods and their potential for recycling may constitute deceptive marketing. The lawsuit cites California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act using the 60% percentage as their argument, even though the percentage of those who do not have access to an adequate recycling source for these pods is much higher.

In August of 2020, Keurig stated its intent to make all caffeinated pods recyclable by the end of next year and to convert to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.

These are admittedly bold statements to make and could spell good news for the environment if a new way to recycle the existing “recyclable” pods is developed in the U.S. The trouble with the pods which are made from recyclable material is that there is currently nowhere in the U.S. to actually recycle them. Some environmentalists have expressed doubt over Keurig’s green intentions; the argument exists that pods are not strictly necessary to make a cup of coffee and that pods are likely to go directly in the garbage after use by most consumers anyway.

Recycling practices in the U.S. have already been under scrutiny in recent years. U.S. recycling has been considered inadequate by much of the world’s standards due to the limited nature of the products which in-country MRFs are equipped to recycle. The issue regarding Keurig’s supposedly “recyclable” coffee pods serves to highlight this problem in a broader light and may bring further elucidation of the issue to the public.

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