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FTC Cracks Down on Companies’ False Biodegradable Plastics Claims

biodegradableThe US Federal Trade Commission has taken action against six companies — ECM Biofilms, American Plastic Manufacturing, Champ, Clear Choice Housewares, Carnie Cap and AJM Packaging — for making false environmental marketing claims.

Of the six, one imposes a $450,000 civil penalty and five for the first time address deceptive biodegradable plastic claims.

All of these cases are part of the FTC’s program to ensure compliance with the agency’s recently revised Green Guides. The Commission publishes the Guides to help businesses market their products accurately, providing guidance as to what constitutes deceptive and non-deceptive environmental claims.

ECM Biofilms is based in Ohio and markets its additives (which allegedly make plastic products biodegradable) under the trade name MasterBatch Pellets. According to the complaint, ECM also issues its own “Certificates of Biodegradability of Plastic Products,” which ECM allegedly uses to convince its customers and end-use consumers that its additive makes plastic products biodegradable.

The FTC complaint charges ECM with violating the FTC Act by misrepresenting that: ECM plastics are biodegradable and will completely break down within a reasonably short time period after disposal; ECM plastics are biodegradable in a landfill; ECM plastics are biodegradable in a stated qualified timeframe; and that various scientific tests prove ECM’s biodegradability claims.  Finally, the complaint charges ECM with providing its customer and independent distributors — through the distribution of its promotional materials — with the means to deceive consumers.

The FTC’s complaints against the following four companies charge them with misrepresenting that plastics treated with additives are biodegradable, biodegradable in a landfill, biodegradable in a certain timeframe, or shown to be biodegradable in a landfill or that various scientific tests prove their biodegradability claims. The FTC also alleges that the companies lacked reliable scientific tests to back up these claims.

American Plastic Manufacturing is based in Seattle, Wash., and was an ECM customer until at least December 2012. The FTC alleges that APM advertised its plastic shopping bags on its website as biodegradable, and sold them to distributors nationwide. APM’s marketing materials claimed that its products were biodegradable based on the use of the additives sold by ECM.

Champ, located in Marlborough, Mass., also was an ECM customer, and advertised on its website that its plastic golf tees were biodegradable. Champ sold the tees both online and in brick and mortar stores throughout the US. The company’s marketing materials claimed that the ECM additive made its products biodegradable.

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