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Connecticut sues Reynolds over 'deceptive' recycling imagery on plastic bags

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Attorney General William Tong says Reynolds is deceptively marketing non-recyclable Hefty plastic bags as recyclable.

In a lawsuit announced Tuesday, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Reynolds Consumer Products is deceptively marketing a brand of Hefty plastic bags as recyclable.

Tong said the transparent plastic bags – labeled “Hefty Recycling” and sold in stores nationwide – contain misleading imagery, including the universally recognized recycling logo and language saying the product is “designed to handle all types of recyclables.”

“The problem is that these bags are not recyclable,” Tong said. “Not just in Connecticut, but as far as we can tell, anywhere in this country.”

Tong said the bags are deceptively marketed as a convenient way to put all recyclables into one plastic bag, which can then be tossed into the curbside recycling bin.

“The whole reason you’re going to buy this is because it will help you recycle and you can put your recyclables in it. And it creates an expectation, an obvious one – an intentional one – that all of this will enhance your contribution to recycling and it will enable you to recycle.”

In reality, he said, not only are the bags not recyclable, but they can also jam trash sorting machines at processing facilities and greatly increase the likelihood that a trash hauler will throw the entire bag full of recyclables into the garbage.

“Not only is this product not recyclable, but everything that gets put inside this bag could then be rejected,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “It’s actually undermining consumers’ recycling objectives at a scale that is, I think, unique.

“You do not need to put your recyclables in plastic bags. Please do not do that,” Dykes said. “It will contribute to those materials not being able to be recycled.”

The complaint from Tong’s office was filed in Hartford Superior Court. It alleges violations under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“Basically, what the law says is: When you sell products, you can’t lie to people,” Tong said. “And if you engage in deceptive marketing, you can be held liable.”

Tong said Connecticut is the only state that has signed onto the litigation so far.

A spokesperson for Reynolds said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening, “At this time, we have not received any formal notice of a lawsuit from Attorney General Tong or the state of Connecticut regarding this matter and, therefore, are unable to comment.”

State officials have worked for years to raise recycling rates, but the matter has taken on new urgency in light of the imminent closure of a major trash-to-energy plant in Hartford later this year.

That facility, operated by the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, took in waste from dozens of towns but is scheduled to soon close.

The closure means the towns will soon have to find a new home for hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage – a reality state officials say could drive up disposal costs for towns and lead to exporting large portions of Connecticut’s garbage to costly out-of-state landfills.

Updated: June 14, 2022 at 8:19 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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