Keywords: environmental product liability, polluting products, waste management

The Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (STJ) has published a decision recognizing, for the first time, the environmental product liability of manufacturers of potentially polluting products.

The August 18, 2014 precedent is the result of a public civil action filed in 2004 against a soda manufacturer. Although the trial judge dismissed the plaintiff's claims (an association for the environmental defense and education), the Court of Appeals overruled this decision and granted part of the plaintiff´s requests, acknowledging the environmental product liability in connection with potentially polluting products, such as plastic soda bottles.

The defendant-manufacturer appealed to the STJ, which upheld the decision from the Court of Appeals, declaring the manufacturer responsible for the environmental damages caused by the irregular disposal of the manufacturer's soda bottles. As part of the assessed damages, the manufacturer is to collect soda bottles abandoned by consumers in streets, streams or any other improper locations, as well as to implement an advertisement campaign to spread environmental awareness relating to the proper disposal of plastic bottles.

The STJ precedent is in accordance with the Brazilian National Policy on Waste Management, particularly concerning the obligation of manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of potentially polluting products to implement reverse logistics (i.e., takeback), enabling the return of the products after consumption. While the STJ did consider the economic consequences of its decision, nevertheless, the Court concluded that the decision merely reinforces an obligation that is already set forth by federal law.

Certainly, this is a precedent of major significance, especially considering that reverse logistics and the shared responsibility for the lifecycle of products are matters increasingly present in the Brazilian legal framework.

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