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Federal Court backs Woolworths’ eco range, dismisses ACCC appeal

The Full Federal Court has dismissed the ACCC’s appeal against an an earlier judgement on the compostability of Woolworths’ ‘Select eco’ range.

In July 2019, the Federal Court found that Woolworths’ claims that its Select range of disposable plates, bowls and cutlery are “biodegradable and compostable” and that environmental claims made by the supermarket were not false or misleading, countering assertions made by the ACCC.

The products, released in 2014, were made from materials derived from corn starch or sugarcane and other natural materials, and at the time there was no mandatory Australian standard to guide how biodegradability and compostability claims must be conveyed to consumers, which remains the case.

The ACCC began proceedings against Woolies in 2018 on the basis that a consumer could expect disposable products would be able to decompose in landfills or domestic composting in a reasonable time, something Woolworths had failed to substantiate.

The consumer watchdog also said its claims were about ‘future matters’, something in direct violation of Australian Consumer Law.

However, the Federal Court said the supermarket had not made unlawful representations about its products, and that any representations made were not in regards to ‘future matters’, but were in regards to the inherent characteristics of the products themselves, and that the original decision will stand.

“We appealed this case because we believe that businesses should be able to support claims they make about their products, especially when consumers are likely to pay more for the product because of the claims made,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“Consumers may select products based on the claims made by the seller or manufacturer, and should be able to rely on environmental claims made by businesses about their products.”

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