A few weeks ago, my friend Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse reached out to me about an investigation for a new class-action lawsuit that is just getting underway against companies that are promoting their baby wipes as “earth-friendly” or “biodegradable.” If you know me, you know I hate greenwashing and have railed against the claims of companies marketing toothbrushes, produce bags, and so-called biodegradable plastics. So I was very interested to hear more about the baby wipes issue and specifically about how and why a lawsuit could be an effective means of combatting these claims.
Disclosure: Gutride Safier has retained me to help spread the word about this issue and direct you to more information; however, the opinions provided here are absolutely my own.
“Earth-Friendly” “Biodegradable” Baby Wipes Greenwashing Claims
While companies are required to list many of the ingredients in their products, these baby wipes companies fail to disclose what material the actual wipe (the substrate) is made of. So the law firm of Gutride Safier submitted the brands to an independent lab for testing. The lab analyzed the fibers in each of the wipes. Here’s what they found:
Earth’s Best Baby Wipes (Made by The Hain Celestial Group, Inc.)
Claim: “Premium Earth Friendly”
Testing Found: The wipes are 62.8% polyester (i.e. plastic), 36.5% rayon, and .7% lyocell.
Bottom Line: The wipes are not earth-friendly because, according to the test results, they are made of plastic and will not biodegrade. What’s more, “Earth-Friendly” is an unqualified general environmental benefit claim, which violates the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) Green Marketing Guidelines.
Honest Wipes (Made by the Honest Co.)
Testing Found: The wipes are 100% rayon.
Bottom Line: The claim that the wipes are “biodegradable” appears to be false because the wipes will not decompose completely within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. The back of the Honest Wipes package states in fine print that the wipes “will biodegrade and compost in municipal/industrial facilities according to ASTM D5338 and OECD 311 standards.” The FTC requires that products labeled as “Biodegradable” must break down and decompose completely within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.
What is “customary disposal” for a baby wipe? If it’s been used to wipe feces, the only option is the landfill, and Honest Wipes’s disclosure does not state whether it will biodegrade or compost completely in a landfill. In fact, the disclaimer doesn’t state what type of facility was used for testing or for how long or to what extent it will biodegrade. And stating on the front of the package that it is “Biodegradable” and then qualifying that statement in small print on the back is insufficient.
According to Marie McCrary of Gutride Safier:
The law is clear that companies cannot make misleading representations on the front of a product package and then rely on disclaimers or small print on the back of the product package to provide a shield for liability for the deception.
Why a Class Action Lawsuit?
As many of you know, I have been involved in different kinds of consumer action campaigns, most of which involved petitions and letter-writing. Some have been successful. But some are still ongoing. Petitions and letter-writing are effective to a point, but class actions target a company’s wallet and have the force of law behind them. The main goal of this baby wipes consumer action is to get these companies to modify their marketing claims to be truthful about the environmental impact of their products. The monetary component will make them pay attention and take this campaign seriously. The payments to each class member (everyone who has purchased these wipes because of their claims) might be very small, but for the company that has to pay, they can really add up.
But, you might ask, will the companies have a chance to change their claims before the case goes to court? Yes. And if they say they will change their packaging, a settlement agreement will be negotiated which is legally binding. They can’t just make empty promises to make the case go away.
You can read more about class action lawsuits here.
Why is Gutride Safier taking on baby wipes?
I wondered what would motivate a law firm to want to take on the environmental marketing claims of a baby wipes company. So I joined a phone conversation with attorney Marie McCrary. She said that the firm had already brought a successful suit challenging the flushability claims of another baby wipes company and during that process discovered baby wipes companies dubiously marketing their products as environmentally-friendly. It seemed like a logical next step. Marie told me she is passionate about the environment and was a vegetarian for environmental reasons for years.
Join the Baby Wipes Class Action
10/07/2018 Update: I have been informed that the law firm is currently in negotiations with The Honest Company. At this time, the link for joining the class action has been taken down. I will publish another update when I have additional information.
What About Other Baby Wipes Companies?
It’s possible there could be other baby wipes companies making false claims on their packaging. At this time, Gutride Safier is focusing only on U.S.-based companies, so just because a company is not included in this action doesn’t mean their claims are valid.
Better Baby Wipes Options
So, are you wondering what baby wipes are a more environmentally-friendly choice?
First, consider making your own. Wellness Mama has a recipe for making your own disposable or reusable wipes. (Remember that any disposable wipe has an environmental cost, no matter what it’s made from.) Here’s a reusable wipes recipe from DIY Natural and a few more from All About Cloth Diapers.
If you aren’t up for handmaking the actual wipes, you can purchase reusable cloth baby wipes and use the above recipes to add the liquid.
If you really want to purchase disposable wipes, do your research. Doing a quick Google search, I found Eco by Naty wipes, which claim to be made from FSC-certified, chlorine-free wood pulp. Do you have a wipe that you prefer? Let us know in the comments.