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Degradable claims deceptive if products destined for landfill

By Katie Bird , 13-Oct-2010
Last updated the 13-Oct-2010 at 17:56 GMT

Claims made about a package’s degradability could be misleading to consumers if the product is usually destined for a landfill or for incineration, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Commission is updating its Green Guides, which are designed to help marketers avoid statements that could mislead their consumers, and has suggested that degradability claims need to be qualified or risk being confusing.

A number of comments received by the Commission from industry representatives, environmental not for profits and consumer groups, highlighted the fact that the majority of solid waste is disposed in landfills in the US, and that almost no degradation occurs in this environment.

In addition, the Commission was shown a consumer study from the research firm APCO, performed in 2006, that suggests 83 percent of consumers believe a biodegradable item will decompose even when disposed of in a landfill – highlighting the scope for consumer confusion.

In light of these comments the Commission is proposing to revise the guidelines to clarify that ‘unqualified degradable claims are deceptive for products or packages destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities’.

Oxo-degradable claims treated for the first time

In addition, the Commission is proposing for the first time to include oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable claims in the Green Guides.

This is at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency among others, and is related to the need for oxygen or light catalyst to be present in order for the decomposition to take place. As neither light nor oxygen is readily available in landfills, a package that is oxo-degradable is unlikely to decompose in this situation.

Although the majority of oxo-degradable claims are made for disposable plastic bags, there are a number of resins being offered for cosmetics packaging for use in shampoo or shower gel bottles.

In the same way as for general degradable claims, the Commission is suggesting unqualified oxo-degradable claims should not be made for products destined for a landfill.

The Commission’s suggestions as to how the Guides should be revised, which include degradable claims, as well as others regarding natural and organic products, are open for public comment until December 10.

To access the Federal Trade Commision’s document and for more information about making comments, please click here .

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