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Released by: District Attorney
For Immediate Release

Amazon Agrees to Pay for Unlawful Environmental Claims

Santa Rosa, CA  –  August 1, 2018  –  Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced today that her office, in conjunction with 22 other District Attorney’s Offices throughout California, resolved a consumer protection action against Amazon, Inc., (“Amazon”). The action was filed in Monterey County Superior Court. The complaint alleges that Amazon advertised and sold plastic products in California that were misleadingly labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” in violation of California law.

Some companies promote the sale of plastic products using misleading claims of biodegradability. Many Californians are willing to pay a premium for products based on these claims. However, the ability of plastic to decompose depends greatly on the environment in which it is placed. The lack of oxygen in landfills, for example, can significantly hamper the ability to biodegrade and plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose in typical landfill conditions.

Since biodegradability claims are inherently misleading, beginning in 2004, the California Legislature enacted statutes under the Public Resources Code (“PRC”) to limit the sale of plastics marketed as biodegradable, based in part on its recognition that the ability of plastic to biodegrade depends greatly on the environment in which it is placed. Accordingly, the PRC prohibits selling any plastic product labeled as “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or with language that otherwise implies that the product will break down in a landfill or other environment. The PRC also prohibits selling a plastic product labeled as “compostable” unless the product has met an established scientific standard designed to ensure the product will break down in municipal compost. Consumers interested in buying compostable plastic products should look for the “ASTM D6400” certification.

In accordance with the PRC and false advertising laws, the stipulated judgment prohibits Amazon from selling or offering for sale plastic products labeled as “biodegradable” “degradable” or “decomposable.” Amazon is further prohibited from selling or offering for sale plastic products labeled as “compostable” without appropriate scientific certification that the products can be composted. Under the terms of the judgment, Amazon agreed to pay $1,512,400 in civil penalties and make an additional payment of $50,000 to CalRecycle to fund testing of plastic products marketed to consumers as compostable or degradable. Sonoma County will receive $131,818.18 as part of the resolution. Amazon worked cooperatively with the District Attorney’s Offices to implement significant changes to its website in order to comply with California law without admitting liability.

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Joe Langenbahn
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Office of the District Attorney
County of Sonoma
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