Keurig has agreed to settle on a nationwide class basis a lawsuit alleging that the labeling of its K-Cup pods misleads consumers into believing that K-Cups are more widely recyclable than the coffee pods actually are.
The complaint, filed in 2018, alleged that Keurig marketed its products as recyclable, despite knowing that they “typically end[ed] up in landfills.” The plaintiff claimed that the packaging conveyed that consumers can “[h]ave [their] cup and recycle it, too,” by following the illustrated instructions to “PEEL,” “EMPTY,” and “RECYCLE” next to the chasing arrow recycling symbol. However, the plaintiff claimed, these labels were deceptive because K-Cups cannot be recycled due to their size, making them per se deceptive under the Green Guides, which state that “if any component [of a recyclable product] limits the ability to recycle the item, any recyclable claim would be deceptive. . . . [If] its shape, size or some other attribute is not accepted in recycling programs, [it] should not be marketed as recyclable.” The plaintiff additionally alleged that even if any pods were incidentally recycled, they would still end up in landfills because there was no downstream market for the recycled pods.
Keurig initially filed a motion to dismiss, citing a preexisting disclaimer under the “recycle” symbol located on the label, directing consumers to check whether the pods are recyclable in their communities. The court, however, found that the plaintiff’s allegation that no local facilities were capable of recycling K-cup pods meant that the disclaimer was not dispositive. The court also rejected Keurig’s argument that its labels were consistent with the FTC Green Guides, noting that the guides themselves advise that products are marketed deceptively, even if their constituent materials are recyclable, if the items are rendered non-recyclable by their size or components.
The proposed settlement includes a $10 million payment to consumers as well as changes to the product’s labeling. Keurig’s new labels will “clearly and prominently” advise consumers to check their local recycling capabilities. This disclaimer, which will read “Check Locally — Not Recycled in Many Communities,” will be in a substantially larger size than the current disclaimer on Keurig’s packaging, and similar warnings will be included on the Keurig website.
A similar lawsuit is pending in San Mateo County (California) Superior Court against manufacturers of plastic bottles of soda. The plaintiffs in that case claim that the use of the “universal recycle symbol” is misleading because even if recycling facilities for plastic bottles are available, U.S. facilities lack the capacity to recycle any significant portion of the defendants’ yearly bottle output, violating the FTC Green Guides.