Plastics Environmental Council Warns FTC’s Green Guides Could Cause Confusion

Posted on October 11, 2012 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

Plastics Industry Warns FTC’s Green Guides Could Cause Confusion

The Plastics Environmental Council has praised the FTC’s revised Green Guidelines, a set of standards to ensure environmental claims made about products are truthful, but warned that one rule over biodegradability has caused confusion within the industry.

The FTC issued its Green Guides on October 1 after spending two years making revisions. The guides caution that marketers should not make broad, unqualified environmental benefit claims about a product being green or eco-friendly, and should have reliable scientific evidence to support carbon offset claims.

The guides also advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradability claim for a product’s solid waste, unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal. However, properly qualified claims of biodegradability are permitted.

The distinction between unqualified and qualified claims is important, and is already causing some confusion, the PEC said.

PEC chairman Sen. Robert W. McKnight said a Consumer Reports review of the Green Guides incorrectly interprets the FTC’s definition of an unqualified claim as discouraging companies from calling a solid waste product degradable unless it’s clearly proven the product will biodegrade within the year after disposal. The Consumer Reports overlooks the FTC’s allowance of qualified claims, PEC said.

The PEC also takes issue with the time frame for waste to biodegrade. The PEC believes the one-year guideline for biodegradation came from a 2006 survey of 1,000 consumers, who expressed one year as the time they believed it took for any biodegradable material to degrade in a landfill.

“This is a serious misconception,” PEC executive director Charles Lancelot said. Several scientific publications have shown most common wastes take many years, even decades, to biodegrade in landfills, the PEC said. This means that the requirement to provide qualified claims clearly stating the rate and extent of biodegradation of plastic packaging or products puts them on the same footing as any other common waste, Lancelot said.

The intent of the Greenguide is very good as there are so many examples of greenwashing by plastics manufacturers these days to try to ride the consumer environment conscious wave. This has to stop as we are doing more harm for the environment with these false claims.
The FTC is out of touch however with the new landfill-biodegradable additives that allow common plastics to biodegrade over a number of years. If a plastic takes 10 years to break down and be gone in a safe way, then that is a lot better situation that the same item taking 300 years to break down. If we live by the thought that what discard in our life time should be gone in our life time then we are not carrying trash forward for future generations to deal with. At the moment, landfill-biodegradable plastics (as long as their performance is well tested by independent labs) is the best option we have to control necessary plastic waste. Unnecessary plastic waste should drive us to reducing that plastic item production in the first place. i.e. reduce our unnecessary use of plastic is the best call to action on this problem.