Microplastics

Microplastics are the latest trend in “greenwashing” litigation

Takeaways from the Key Notes

  • Recent lawsuits claim that baby bottle manufacturers misled consumers by claiming sippy cups and infant bottles are “BPA-free” and safe to use. Plaintiffs assert, however, that heating the products can cause microplastics leakage into food and beverages.
  • This case is part of the “greenwashing” trend, where plaintiffs claim that companies have made false or misleading advertising claims about the benefits a product has for the environment or society. They do this to take advantage of consumers’ increased interest in the impact their consumption habits have on the environment and bodies.

California consumers filed putative class-action complaints in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on June 25, 2024 against Philips North America 1, and Handicraft 2. They claimed that despite the fact the products were advertised as “BPA Free”, they were made of polypropylene which, when heated, leaked microplastics.

The FDA has banned BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant-formula packaging. However, it says that BPA is safe in most food packaging at certain levels. The FDA has banned BPA from baby bottles, sippy cup packaging and infant formula packaging. However, it has stated that BPA can be used in food packaging in certain amounts.

The plaintiffs in these lawsuits don’t claim that these products are BPA-free, contrary to what is advertised. Plaintiffs argue that a reasonable consumer will interpret “BPA-free” advertising as meaning the products are free of all microplastics and not just BPA. According to the complaints, exposure to microplastics can be harmful to children during critical developmental periods, including infancy and childhood. It is also said that it may affect various body systems, including the digestive, reproductive and central nervous systems, as well as the immune and circulatory system. Bus. & Prof. Code SSSS 17200 et seq. ), California False Advertising Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code SSSS 17500 et seq. California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act. Civ. Code SSSS 1750 et seq.) Claims for breach of warranty, unjust enrichment and claims for unjust enrichment. These claims were made by a putative class of consumers nationwide and a California subclass of people who bought these products under the claim that they were “BPA-free” within the applicable statutes of limitations.

False advertising claims are not new. Manufacturers “greenwashing their products” is a common theory. In recent years, class-action lawsuits have been filed across the country alleging false advertising of products like makeup that claim to be “natural,” environmentally friendly, or healthy.

These two California cases are part of a long-term trend that targets plastics manufacturers. We will continue to monitor this trend, offer counsel and defend our client against it. Winston has a wealth of experience in handling class actions and similar claims. You can contact the authors to get more information about these issues.


Footnotes

1. Tuliisa Miller et al. v. Philips North America LLC, 3:24-cv-03781 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2024).

2. Alejandrina Cortez et al. v. Handi-Craft Co. Inc., 3:24-cv-03782, (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2024).

3. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, What’s Next?, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/2020atsdrannualreport/whats-next.html.

4. FDA, Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application, https://www.fda.gov/food/food-packaging-other-substances-come-contact-food-information-consumers/bisphenol-bpa-use-food-contact-application.

5. Alejandrina Cortez et al. v. Handi-Craft Co. Inc., 3:24-cv-03782, (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2024).


This article is meant to be a guide for the general public. You should seek specialist advice about your particular circumstances.