A shopper walks out of a Woolworths store in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2016. Picture taken May 12, 2016.
A shopper walks out of a Woolworths store in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2016. Picture taken May 12, 2016. Reuters/David Gray

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is suing Woolworths Limited in Federal Court for allegedly misleading consumers. The consumer watchdog said that the supermarket giant’s environmental claims about its W Select Eco products were false, misleading and deceptive.

The ACCC said that Woolworths labelled the W Select Eco picnic products — which included disposable bowls, plates and cutlery — as “biodegradable and compostable” from November 2014 to November 2017. The company allegedly misrepresented to consumers that the product line would compost within a reasonable period in domestic compost bins or conventional landfill sites.

However, Woolworths did not “make reasonable or adequate efforts” to verify the claims. Its customers paid a premium for the products because they thought the environmental claims were true.

“The ACCC also alleges that Woolworths made these claims in circumstances where it was aware there was confusion among consumers and businesses about the meaning of biodegradable and compostable,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement. “One of the suppliers of the W select Eco line also had significant qualifications on its website about the biodegradability and compostability of its products. Despite all these matters, Woolworths made the representations without explanation or qualification.”

The retail company allegedly acted contrary to its own Environmental Claims Policy, which stated that such claims should be “accurate, specific and clear.”

“Businesses making environmental claims about their products must take reasonable steps to ensure the benefits are achievable for ordinary Australian consumers,” Court continued. The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, publication orders and costs.”

A Woolworths spokesperson said the company is committed to doing its part for the environment. “We treat our obligations under the Australian Consumer Law very seriously and understand how important it is that environmental claims are clear and accurate for our customers,” the rep was quoted by adnews.com.au as saying.

The said products had been removed from shelves when the ACCC first contacted the company in November last year.