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ACCC appeals Federal Court decision on Woolworths disposable picnic products

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has appealed the Federal Court’s decision to dismiss a case against Woolworths’ in which the ACCC claimed information about the supermarket’s W Select Eco picnic products was false and misleading.

In March 2018, the ACCC took action against Woolworths, alleging the range of disposable plates, bowls and cutlery, which were labelled “biodegradable and compostable”, did not provide consumers with sufficient information or consider future implications.

ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said the ACCC is now appealing the case because it is still adamant that the biodegradable and compostable claims made by Woolworths were predictions about what would happen to these products in the future.

The Federal Court had dismissed the ACCC’s allegations in July 2019, as the judge found that the likely performance of Woolworths’ picnic products was not a “future matter” because the reference to “biodegradable and compostable” was about the inherent characteristics of the product rather than a prediction, forecast, promise or opinion of a future event.

However, Sims said consumers who pay more for products, which businesses represent are better for the environment, should be able to assume those claims are true.

“If businesses make claims about future matters, they must have a reasonable basis for those claims,” he said.

Following the decision by the Federal Court in July, a Woolworths spokesperson told Inside Waste that Woolworths always treated its obligations under the Australian Consumer Law very seriously, and it understood how important it is that its customers can trust the environmental claims we make.

All products in the range were made from materials derived from corn starch or sugarcane and other natural materials, the spokesperson said.

The relevant products were released in 2014 when there was no mandatory Australian standard to guide how biodegradability and compostability claims must be conveyed to consumers. This remains the case today, the spokesperson explained.

A hearing for the appeal before the Full Federal Court will be set at a later date.