Full Court dismisses ACCC appeal over Woolworths’ ‘compostable’ claims

The Full Federal Court today dismissed an ACCC appeal against a Federal Court judgment in relation to environmental claims made by Woolworths about their ‘W Select eco’ picnic products.

The ACCC’s case was that claims made by Woolworths between November 2014 and November 2017 about its range of disposable plates, bowls and cutlery which were labelled ‘biodegradable and compostable’ were false and misleading.

The ACCC alleged that Woolworths represented to consumers that the picnic products would biodegrade and compost within a reasonable period of time when disposed of in a domestic compost bin or conventional landfill site.

The ACCC had also alleged Woolworths had failed to make reasonable or adequate efforts to substantiate these claims before making them, and that the claims were about ‘future matters’. Under the Australian Consumer Law, representations about ‘future matters’ are deemed to be misleading unless the business has reasonable grounds to make the representation.

The trial judge found that Woolworths had not made the representations in the form alleged by the ACCC and, in any event, the representations made by Woolworths were not about ‘future matters’.

The Full Federal Court found that the trial judge had not made an error when finding that the words ‘biodegradable and compostable’ referred to an inherent characteristic of the picnic products, and not about a future matter.

“We appealed this case because we believe that businesses should be able to support claims they make about their products, especially when consumers are likely to pay more for the product because of the claims made,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Consumers may select products based on the claims made by the seller or manufacturer, and should be able to rely on environmental claims made by businesses about their products.”

“We will now carefully consider the judgment,” Mr Sims said.

Background

In March 2018, the ACCC commenced legal action in the Federal Court, alleging that the environmental representations Woolworths made about its ‘W Select eco’ picnic products were false, misleading or deceptive, in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

On 5 July 2019 the Federal Court found Woolworths’ claims were not misleading. The following month, the ACCC appealed the Federal Court decision.

W Select Eco line of picnic products
W Select Eco plates

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