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Companies In Hot Water Over Plastic Coffee Pods Labeled Biodegradable

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Retail giant Costco Wholesale Corporation and a Northern California coffee company have agreed to pay $500,000 in civil penalties to settle a consumer protection action for the sale of plastic coffee pods,
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said Monday.

The settlement was based on allegations that Costco, which is based in Issaquah, Wash., and JBR of Roseville, which does business as San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee and Rogers Family Company, sold plastic coffee pods that are labeled with untrue and misleading marketing claims, including statements related to biodegradability and compostability, O'Malley said.

"California consumers trying to help reduce the problem of plastic waste in landfills are often misled to believe that plastic products labeled as 'biodegradable' will break down in municipal trash," O'Malley said in a statement.

But O'Malley said most landfills prevent biodegradation and "in order to prevent misleading consumers, the state Legislature banned the sale of plastic products labeled with language implying they will biodegrade."

O'Malley said consumers interested in diverting plastic waste from landfills to municipal composting facilities should look for products that are labeled as having met scientific compostability standards, specifically a
compostable plastics certification called "ASTM D6400."

Plastic coffee pods sold by San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee and the plastic bags they came in were labeled "97% biodegradable" and "biodegradable," despite a legal ban on such products' sale, as well as compostable, despite a legal ban on the sale of such products unless certain standards are met, according to O'Malley.

The company also labeled its "One cup" coffee pods as "No Plastic Cup," when the ring, mesh, and part of the lid were all made of plant-based plastic, O'Malley said.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson issued a stipulated final judgment settling the matter.

O'Malley said 24 other district attorneys in California joined her office in bringing the action.

Costco didn't respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

O'Malley said plastic waste can take up to a thousand years to decompose, depending on the environment in which it is disposed.

She said landfills, in particular, tend to mummify trash rather than biodegrade it, since decomposition requires sunlight, moisture, and oxygen.

The judgment prohibits Costco and JBR from selling the plastic coffee pods if they're labeled "biodegradable."

The companies are also prohibited from selling them if they're labeled "compostable" unless a scientific certification supports the claim.

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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