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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.

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6 thoughts on “Plastics Industry Warns FTC’s Green Guides Could Cause Confusion

  1. The toxic/nontoxic provisions are also going to be a problem. Is the presence of one molecule of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, enough to disqualify a product? Consumers will say they want NO carcinogens.

  2. 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.

  3. What’s truly misleading is the headline of this article. PEC is a niche lobby group that does not represent the plastics industry by any means. I would strongly recommend that Environmental Leader do more due diligence in researching authors so as not to be so negligent when positioning controversial issues like these.

  4. The Plastics Environmental Council, should not be concerned unless their members’ products do not meet the FTC “Green Guides” which is sounds like they do not. As the FTC notes, marketers may make an unqualified degradable claim only if they can prove that the “entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.” The “reasonably short period of time” for complete decomposition of solid waste products is one year. In addition, items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so unqualified biodegradable claims for them shouldn’t be made. Part of the FTC’s mission is to prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers. The PEC apparently believes deceptive practices are ok which is why they have issue with the revised “Green Guides.”

  5. Sue, it seems you missed the whole point. Perhaps it would be easier is you looked the labeling requirements as two categories: 1) Unqualified Claims or 2) Qualified Claims. The PEC is simply stating that many, including yourself, is misinterpreting these UNqualified Claim requirements to be the same as Qualified Claim requirements -which a gross misunderstanding. Qualified Claims do NOT need to show that a material will degrade completely within 1 year. The FTC has stated that ONLY UNqualified Claims are required to meet this 1 year performance. Hopefully this clears things up for you. If you research who the PEC has engaged in their activity, you will find it has some of the worlds top academia and engineers involved with their environmental charter. To say that anyone associated with this organization believes in deceptive practices is WAY off base and points to question your motivation for a comment like this. When misinterpretation or misinformation is propagated, the ones who suffer particular to this cause are the environment and the general consumer. Let’s get facts straight for the good of all.

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