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.