AG Ellison sues Walmart, Reynolds for defrauding consumers over ‘recycling’ bags that aren't recyclable

Saying its customers have been deceived through marketing tactics, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has announced a lawsuit against Reynolds Consumer Products, Inc. – the parent company of the Hefty bag trademark – and Walmart stores for its "recycling" bags that actually wind up in landfills like any other.

According to the lawsuit announcement, the bags offered to its customers are not in fact recyclable in Minnesota, and also have unrecyclable materials placed within them. In addition, all recyclable items that consumers place into the "recycling" bags end up at a landfill, contrary to consumers’ intentions.

The "recycling" bags make their way into a recycling stream at any Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Minnesota, and can cause the sorting machinery to malfunction, cause fires, and result in unsafe conditions for workers who have to crawl into the machinery to remove them, according to the announcement.

"Reynolds and Walmart… are taking advantage of Minnesotans’ good intentions to misleadingly market so-called ‘recycling’ bags to us that can’t be recycled and actually harm recycling," Ellison said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that the bags, "raise costs for taxpayers, undermine well-intentioned consumers’ recycling efforts, and create more unrecyclable waste that ends up in our landfills and waterways." 

"Plastic bags are not recyclable in our programs, and we don’t accept them. When recyclable material comes in to our facility contained in a plastic bag, we have to throw it away because there is too much risk of injury for our employees to rip open the bags as they come across the line," said Lynn Hoffman, Eureka Recycling Co-President. "It is a common misconception that plastic bags are recyclable, which is made even worse by false marketing claims. We appreciate Attorney General Ellison for seeking accountability for these harmful practices." 

On Jan. 1, 2020, retail establishments started requiring a fee of at least 5 cents for plastic carryout bags in Minneapolis. The ordinance was the result of the city’s effort to reduce litter and trash, as well as, recycling issues related to them.

According to the city at the time, Minnesotans throw away 87,000 tons of plastic bags every year and recycle less than 5 percent of them.