After the FTC’s release of regulation regarding environmental marketing in 2010, it took action on paper and plastic companies last year due to their incorrect and deceptive use of the term “biodegradable.” Additionally, last month the FTC sent letters to 15 marketers stating that their claims may be deceptive. It also requested scientific proof that the companies’ bags will biodegrade as advertised. Although the names of these companies have not been revealed, they are said to be producing conventional plastic products with additives like metals intended to break the bags down in the presence of oxygen. Because bags are usually dumped in a low-oxygen environment, these claims do not bring any actual benefit.
Moreover, because the bags are composed of polyethylene or styrene, they are harmful to marine life if they eventually decompose in the ocean.
I’ve been telling these companies – and they don’t like this very much – but the ‘oxo-degradable’ label should be changed to ‘oxo-fragmentable’,” said Greene, author of the newly published book about sustainable plastics.“The plastic is not degrading, it’s fragmenting,” Greene said. Over time, as opposed to breaking down into less hazardous organic components, these plastic products break down into lots of small, equally toxic bits.
This is not the FTC’s first action against false environmental claims. Last year, the FTC sued several plastic companies advertising their products as biodegradable with a clear presence of chemical additives. Four of the cases have been settled this year and the companies agreed to stop making these false claims until they have scientific proof.
Despite these issues regarding labeling, the market is going into a “degradable packaging revolution,” according to LEK Consulting. Sustainable packaging is already experiencing an annual 4 percent growth rate and the plastics market is also expected to grow from $41.4 billion in 2013 to $57.8 billion by 2020, according to Environmental Leader.
While corn-based PLA plastics are favorable alternative to oxo-degradable formulas, a Guardian study found that such plastics can still increase the emission of greenhouse gases in landfills. Overall, stricter guidelines and regulations must be put into place to control the industry.
We need universal guidelines, consistent guidelines from state to state, otherwise these companies will go to the state of least resistance … or to Mexico, which is trouble for everybody.”
Read more here – “Feds Warn Plastic Bag Makers Over Misleading Biodegradable Claims,” (Greg Harman, The Guardian).
Anna is a current student at The George Washington University in Washington, DC with a concentration in Marketing and Communication. She specializes in social media outreach and has experience working in government contracting.