New class-action lawsuit trashes Hefty recycling bags

An image from a complaint by Gutride Safier LLP in United States District Court Northern District of California for Lisabeth Hanscom against Defendants Reynolds Consumer Products Inc. and Reynolds Consumer Products LLC for unlawful, unfair, and decep

Hefty Recycling Bags aren't recyclable; that's the nub of a federal class action lawsuit filed Friday in San Francisco against Reynolds Consumer Products Inc. and an affiliate, the companies that manufacture and sell the bags.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California begins with a newsflash: "Plastic waste is an increasingly dire international problem. Nearly 90% of plastic waste is not recycled. Much of the unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean."  

The filing goes on to say that "many consumers actively seek to purchase products that are either compostable or recyclable to divert such waste from waterways, oceans, their communities, landfills, and incinerators."

Reynolds seeks to tap into that socially conscious consumer behavior, the complaint says, by marketing 13 and 30-gallon trash bags under the name "Hefty Recycling Bags." The bags are offered in multiple colors including blue and clear. According to the complaint, the bags are made of "low-density polyethylene or No. 4 plastic."

On the box, there is an all-caps statement, "HEFTY BAGS ARE PERFECT FOR ALL YOUR RECYCLING NEEDS." Just below there is a smaller statement -- still in all-caps -- that proclaims the product is "DESIGNED TO HANDLE ALL TYPES OF RECYCLABLES."

There is a problem, however.  

According to the complaint, "the vast majority of LDPE or No. 4 plastic sent to recycling facilities is incinerated, which releases large quantities of greenhouse gases and toxic air emissions."

Not only are the bags allegedly unrecyclable, but according to the complaint, "they contaminate the waste stream and decrease the recyclability of other recyclable items."  

In other words, when properly recyclable items are bagged in a Hefty Recycling Bag they may end up being incinerated or sent to a landfill because of the manner in which they were bagged.

In a statement sure to frustrate consumers if proven to be true, the complaint says most municipal recycling facilities "simply throw bagged recyclables directly into trash."

The complaint asserts a number of claims based on California law including false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and fraud, deceit and misrepresentation, all by leading consumers "to falsely believe that the Products are (1) suitable for disposing of recyclable waste and (2) that they are recyclable when they are not."

Another count of the complaint accuses Reynolds of "greenwashing," or making deceptive environmental claims for the product.

Plaintiff Lisabeth Hanscom, an Oakland resident, alleges that on Sept. 15, 2020, she bought a box of Hefty bags for $8.99 at Safeway. She saw the term "Recycling" on the box and bought them "because she believed that the bags were suitable for disposing of her recyclables and that the bags themselves were recyclable."  

When she learned from her roommate that the bags were not recyclable she stopped using them.

Hanscom seeks to maintain her suit as a class action on behalf of all California purchases of Hefty Recycling Bags on or after May 7, 2017.

On the website, as of Tuesday, there is a "Trash Bag Finder" that invites a consumer to "select the right bag" by identifying the anticipated use. Clicking on the "recycling or composting" option and then selecting "recycling," takes a consumer to a page for Hefty Recycling Bags where the claim on the box is repeated: "Designed to handle all types of recyclables."  

The same site touts Hefty's sustainability work and says, "We are proud members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), an industry working group dedicated to a more robust environmental vision for packaging."

Reynolds did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.