Canada’s Competition Bureau (CB) surprised a lot of people when it fined Keurig Canada $3 million for deceptive marketing practices last week. Surprised because the CB keeps a low profile, preferring to negotiate settlements away from the spotlight (as this “agreement” was); and just recently shelved or archived the environmental labelling and advertising guidelines Canada has been relying on for years.
The fine is significant ($3 million). Then there’s $85,000 for the commission’s legal costs (not to mention Keurig’s own), and many thousands of dollars more to publicize the commission’s decision in national and local newspapers, digital media, and websites. And there’s $800,000 to be paid to “a Canadian charitable organization focused on environmental causes.” I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that’s decided, if it’s not decided already.
The “agreement” revolves around Keurig’s recyclability claims for its single-use K-Cup coffee pods. The commission found Keurig’s claims false and misleading on two grounds: technical and logistical. Telling consumers that they should simply peel off the lid and empty the contents was not sufficient, according to the commission, because some local municipal programs required additional steps (separating other components) before the pods could be sent on for recycling. Keurig has agreed to prominently display the qualifying language: “Some municipalities require additional steps.”
The second ground for determining Keurig’s claims for recyclability were false and misleading is more substantial in my view. According to the commission, Keurig’s advertising creates “the general impression that K-Cup pods are recyclable in each location where these representations are being made to the public.” What it found in fact, however, was that K-Cup pods were not currently widely accepted for recycling in municipal residential programs outside of British Columbia and Quebec.
Keurig’s advertising did not meet the (now archived) guidelines and required qualifying language, according to the commission. “Recyclable in select locations” was suggested and “May not be recyclable in your area.”
I am certainly pleased to see the Competition Bureau become more active on this file. And there are plenty more fish out there. “Little Green Lies and Other BS” has a whole chapter on 100% recyclable and 100% compostable claims. Why isn’t the CB targeting them? To my mind, anyone placing 100% in front of recyclable or compostable is failing to follow US or Canadian guidelines and is leaving themselves open to prosecution for misleading advertising.
They are compounding exiting consumer confusion, or worse, deliberately indulging in what amounts to greenwashing, giving the impression that not only is their product 100% recyclable or compostable (technically) but that it can also be recycled or composted everywhere. This is not true. Get at it, CB.