Competition Bureau fines Keurig Canada for claiming coffee pods were recyclable: UVic environmental law group

Click to play video: 'UVic report leads to $3-million fine against Keurig Canada over coffee pods'
UVic report leads to $3-million fine against Keurig Canada over coffee pods
Thanks to a university of Victoria report, a major company has paid the price for what turned out to be a misleading ad campaign. As Kylie Stanton reports, it involves a claim by Keurig Canada that its coffee pods are easily recyclable across the country - when they're not. – Jan 11, 2022

Keurig Canada Inc. has to pay a hefty fine and change its product packaging following the outcome of a complaint made to the Competition Bureau.

Calvin Sandborn, the legal director at the Environmental Law Centre, faculty of law, at the University of Victoria, co-wrote an editorial in 2019 with author Margaret Atwood calling for a national strategy banning plastic and single-use plastics.

Sandborn told Global News following publication that he received an email from the head of Keurig Canada saying the company has developed a solution to this — recyclable plastic coffee pods.

“I was a little dubious about this,” he said. “So I sat down with some students and we looked at the ads for Keurig and we said ‘this is misleading’.”

After more research from a law student, it was determined the Keurig ads were misleading.

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“First of all, the pods are not recyclable in most places in Canada. They are theoretically recyclable in British Columbia and Quebec but otherwise not.”

“The other thing was, the instructions in the ads were saying you could just peel (the lid), dump (the coffee) and toss (into the recycling) but it’s actually much more complicated than that.”

Click to play video: 'Showdown brewing between Toronto, Keurig over pod recyclability'
Showdown brewing between Toronto, Keurig over pod recyclability

To recycle the item correctly, he said, the customer would have to remove the filter, wash out the pod completely and separate the metal from the plastic.

The group made a submission to the Competition Bureau proposing for a $10 million fine and a retraction from Keurig.

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On Jan. 6, the Bureau’s investigation concluded Keurig Canada must pay a $3 million penalty and donate $800,000 to a Canadian charitable organization focused on environmental causes.

It must pay an additional $85,000 for the costs of the Bureau’s investigation, change its recyclable claims, the packaging on the K-Cup pods, and publish corrective notices about recyclability on its website, social media, and with national and local news. The packaging of all new brewing machines and email to its subscribers must similarly included a revised message.

“The most important thing is they have to issue these notices across Canada saying that these were misrepresentations,” Sandborn said. “It was misleading or false advertising about saying these were recyclable across the country, when they’re not and about saying you can just dump and toss and that’s enough for recycling.

“It’s a real message to corporate advertisers that it is against the law to do false advertising”

Click to play video: 'This is why people are destroying their Keurig coffee makers'
This is why people are destroying their Keurig coffee makers

David Lefebvre, spokesperson for Recycle BC said the environment was going to suffer the most in previous scenario.

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“If you leave (the pods) in and put them in your curbside recycling, those coffee grounds will end up affecting other materials, and that will affect the recyclability of those materials. Overall, the environmental outcomes suffer,” he said.

This case sets a precedent, Sandborn said.

“As long as we have the truth, we can maybe resolve these problems.”

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