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Seller Of “Compostable” Products Settles Deceptive Packaging Claims

CONTACT: Elliot Burg, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5507

June 28, 2012

Fabri-Kal Corporation, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has agreed to settle claims by Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell that the company violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by advertising as “compostable” its Greenware line of products, including “bioplastic” drinking cups, without disclosing the limited availability of local composting options. The settlement requires Fabri-Kal to pay $80,000 to the State of Vermont in penalties and costs, and another $20,000 to the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District in Montpelier to develop a residential composting pilot project.

Commenting on the settlement, Attorney General Sorrell noted that environmental marketing claims are of great importance to Vermonters. “If a product is labeled ‘compostable,’” he said, “it should be an item that can be composted within a reasonable period of time in the back yard or else in a commercial facility that is actually accessible to most Vermonters. Otherwise, the marketing is deceptive.”

Starting in March 2005, Fabri-Kal sold over $2.4 million worth of its Greenware products in Vermont and consistently advertised and labeled them as “100% compostable.” Since the products were not recommended by the company for home composting, they needed to be composted in a commercial facility, as stated on much of Fabri-Kal’s packaging.

However, most Vermonters, and most of Vermont, are not served by municipal or commercial composting facilities that accept products such as Fabri-Kal’s—a fact that was not disclosed on the products. In addition, some product packaging contained no disclaimer at all.

The settlement prohibits Fabri-Kal from offering, selling or distributing any product in or into the State of Vermont, directly or indirectly, as “compostable” unless (a) the product packaging bears a disclosure that the product is not suitable for backyard composting, if that is the case; and (b) either (i) a substantial majority of Vermont consumers have practical access to commercial facilities that will accept the product for composting, or (ii) the absence of such facilities is disclosed (such as, “Commercial facilities may not exist in your area.”). All disclosures must appear near the compostability claim and not be significantly smaller or less visible than the claim itself.

For more information on the settlements, call the Attorney General’s Office at (802) 828-5507.

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