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Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley announced Wednesday that her office, in conjunction with 22 other District Attorney’s Offices throughout California, resolved a consumer protection complaint against Amazon.com, Inc.

The complaint alleged that Amazon advertised and sold plastic products in California that were misleadingly labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” in violation of California law.

Amazon agreed to pay $1,512,400 in civil penalties and investigative costs, and agreed make an additional payment of $50,000 to CalRecycle to pay for testing of plastic products marketed to consumers as compostable or degradable.

More marketers have sought to promote the sale of plastic products using misleading claims of biodegradability, the district attorney's office said. Many Californians are willing to pay a premium for products based on these claims.

However, the ability of plastic to decompose depends greatly on the environment in which it is placed. Plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose in typical landfill conditions.

Since biodegradability claims are inherently misleading, California law imposes an outright ban on the sale of plastics labeled “biodegradable” (or labeled with similar language). The sale of plastic products labeled “compostable” is also prohibited, unless the product meets certain scientific standards that ensure the plastic will break down in municipal compost. Consumers interested in buying compostable plastic products should look for the “ASTM D6400” certification.

The judgment in this case prohibits Amazon from selling plastic products labeled as “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decomposable,” or from selling plastic products labeled as “compostable” without appropriate scientific certification that the products can be composted.

Upon contact from prosecutors, Amazon took immediate steps to stop sales of “biodegradable” plastic products, and worked cooperatively with prosecutors throughout the settlement process, the DA's office said. 

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.