FTC cracks down on biodegradability claims – USA

Posted on November 3, 2013 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

FTC cracks down on biodegradability claims – News – Plastics News#email_sustain.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has taken aim at five plastics companies, alleging they used false or misleading claims of biodegradability. But one of those companies plans to fight the charges, saying it will win in the long run.

According to FTC’s latest Green Guides, a company is allowed to market a product as biodegradable without a qualifier if the product breaks down in less than a year. FTC does not have guidelines on how to market products with a qualifier, the company alleges.

This is indeed confusing as the FTC with their green guide lines last year were trying to stop over zealous companies making unsubstantiated biodegradable claims to misled the public.  They said to make a biodegradable claim it has to be shown it will biodegrade in 12 months.    Which implies if a product biodegrades in longer than 12 months then a qualifier is needed to let the reader know this.  But this article above infers the FTC is saying this can’t be done either.    This makes no technological sense and starts to sound like the California law on using the word biodegradable.    In California we know the law there was made by lobbying companies to only allow compostable companies to use the word biodegradable so only products from these compostable plastics companies could be used there, furthering the own financial gains.    When it was released last year, the FTC Green Guide seemed to be a broader sense reasoning and the 12 month ‘Unqualified Biodegradable Claim’ stipulation was reasonable from the publics perception.  So why are they now saying biodegradation in time frames over 12 months with qualifications (independent lab certifications) to inform the public on this is not allowed either?
The over use of disposable plastics these days is far too large.  We have to address this on many fronts to attack this issue.  The reduction of its use is by far the best option to use.  However after it has been produced then we have to look at options of a) incineration in  waste to energy plants, which is a political hot potato due to what community is going to want one of these in its back yard?  or b) biodegradation to break it down to humus which can then be reused to grow crops.   Note we have not mentioned recycling here which many people tout as the definitive answer for plastic waste.  Unlike a metal, plastic is not recyclable many times, 2-3 times is all that a plastic molecule gets to be reformed before it loses it structural properties and falls apart.  As an example, say 1 ton of plastic bags is made handed out for ‘free’ by a grocery store.  Then by some miraculous event they were all recycled in the next 6 months.  They were then made into new bags and handed out and collected back again in another 6 months.  After this 2nd time and those 12 months, the plastic will be so mechanically worthless that no bags could be made from it and those collected bags would have to be disposed of.    This illustrates that even though there was 100% recycling, (currently bags get recycled at 3%)  that after just 12 months all that that 1 ton of plastic would have to be disposed, showing that recycling is not a long term solution for plastic waste at all.  Long term sustainable solutions for plastic waste control are only WTE or landfill with biodegradation to reclaim the energy.

The FTC has to recognise this, stay abreast of  and verify technological developments and make appropriate guide lines to guide industry forwards.