The Potluck

Ellison sues Walmart, Reynolds for allegedly deceiving customers with recycling bag marketing

By: - June 6, 2023 3:56 pm

Attorney General Keith Ellison held up a box of Hefty recycling bags at Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis on Tuesday June 6, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is suing Walmart and Reynolds Consumer Products — the parent company of Hefty bags — for allegedly deceiving and defrauding Minnesotans with their marketing of recycling bags.

Ellison at a Tuesday press conference said despite company claims, recycling facilities end up throwing away the bags, including their contents, as the bags are made with material that cannot be recycled. Recycling workers are often instructed to dispose of the recycling bags as trash, because the bags clog machines, and employees can be injured by sharp or toxic contents within the bag if an employee opens it.

The lawsuit seeks to have the companies disgorge their profits back to the state, meaning Walmart and Reynolds Consumer Products would return the profits they made from the recycling bags back to the state.

“We Minnesotans are trying to do our part and care for the environment that we love,” Ellison said. “Consumers might select these bags to help them advance the cause of environmental protection, but when we use these Hefty and Great Value bags that Reynolds and Walmart market as perfect for recycling, all our efforts to recycle go to waste. Literally to waste.”

In addition, the Attorney General’s Office alleges that Walmart and Reynolds are intentionally misleading customers about the recyclability of their bags. For example, Ellison said that Walmart’s Great Value recycling bags once claimed they were acceptable at many municipal recycling plants, though it has now taken that claim off the packaging.

Connecticut also sued Reynolds over its recycling bags. The Connecticut attorney general said the bags were not compatible with recycling facilities in the state.

Assistant Attorney General Joseph Heegaard said that Minnesota, however, is the first state to sue Walmart for their recycling bags.

Walmart in a statement said it relies on its suppliers to adhere to labeling requirements for its products.

“Walmart does not manufacture these items and look to our suppliers to provide quality products that comply with all applicable laws, including labeling requirements. We will respond in court as appropriate once we are served,” Walmart said.

Reynolds in a statement said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

Heegaard said the Attorney General’s Office decided to sue Reynolds and Walmart because they’ve shown “particularly egregious conduct” by engaging in deliberately misleading statements about their products. 

Ellison announced the lawsuit at Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis. Eureka estimates that the recycling bags and other plastic bags that get caught in its sorting machinery cost the nonprofit about $75,000 annually.

Cities around the country, including Minneapolis, have enacted bans and taxes on plastic bags that interrupt recycling operations.

Ellison encouraged Minnesotans to keep recycling and reach out to their local facility if they have questions about what can be recycled, and he said people with concerns about Reynolds or Walmart’s recycling bags should contact his office.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.