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Competition Bureau Investigation into Coffee Pods Recyclability Claims

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We’ve said many times before that some ELC files need time to brew. Such was the case with our 2019 submission with Ecojustice to Canada’s Competition Bureau asking for an investigation into Keurig Canada’s claims about the recyclability of their coffee pods.

Ironically, the submission was prompted by Keurig’s email to us claiming their coffee pods were part of the solution to plastics pollution problem. The email had come to Calvin Sandborn in response to an op ed he wrote with Margaret Atwood about proposed solutions to deal with plastics pollution, an issue the ELC has worked on since 2017. When Keurig brought their ads about the recyclability of their product to Calvin’s attention, he thought they sounded too good to be true. Turns out he was right.

After investigating Keurig’s ads, Calvin and then student Kevin Kisser argued in the Competition Bureau submission that the coffee pods require much more extensive cleaning and preparation than advertised and are actually banned from municipal recycling in most places in Canada. Not only were coffee pods not the positive environmental solution as advertised, they were interfering with recycling systems at significant cost in terms of money and environmental damage.

In January 2022, the Competition Bureau confirmed that Keurig’s ads were false or misleading. They fined Keurig $3 million and issued orders for them to stop the misleading advertising, to publish corrective statements across the country, and to donate $800K to an environmental charity approved by the Competition Bureau.

This decision opens up the possibility of future deceptive advertising claims against all companies who “greenwash” their products. It is an important case that addresses the fundamental issue that consumers can’t make informed choices if they have false information.

Other greenwashing issues are coming to our attention, and the topic inspired this year’s Research-a-thon, which had students investigating and uncovering other examples of potential false advertising claims that the ELC will look at more closely over the coming months.


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