The Federal Trade Commission announced six enforcement actions last week, including against companies that marketed supposedly biodegradable plastic rebar cap covers, plastic golf tees, and plastic shopping bags, as part of the agency’s ramped up crackdown on environmental claims.

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

“It’s no secret that consumers want products that are environmentally friendly, and that companies are trying to meet that need,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But companies that don’t have evidence to support the environmental claims they make about their products erode consumer confidence and undermine those companies that are playing by the rules.”

Details of each of the FTC’s plastics matters are available by following the links below.

ECM Biofilms, Inc. based in Ohio markets its additives which allegedly make plastic products biodegradable. According to the complaint, ECM also issues its own “Certificates of Biodegradability of Plastic Products.”

The FTC’s complaints against each of the following companies charge them with misrepresenting that plastics treated with additives are biodegradable. The FTC also alleges that the companies lacked reliable scientific tests to back up these claims. American Plastic Manufacturing  based in Seattle was an ECM customer and advertised its plastic shopping bags as biodegradable. CHAMP, located in Marlborough, Massachusetts, also was an ECM customer, advertised that its plastic golf tees were biodegradable.  Clear Choice Housewares, Inc. based in Leominster, Massachusetts, was a customer of an additive manufacturer called Bio-Tec Environmental. Clear Choice sold what it claims are biodegradable, reusable plastic food storage containers. Carnie Cap, Inc., based in East Moline, Illinois, incorporated Eco-One, an additive manufactured and marketed by Ecologic, into its plastic rebar cap covers which it claimed, with no qualification, made its plastic rebar cap covers “100 % biodegradable.”

The Green Guides provide a company must have evidence that the entire plastic product will completely decompose into elements found in nature within one year after customary disposal (defined as disposal in a landfill, incinerator, or recycling facility) before making any unqualified biodegradable claim.

AJM Packaging Corporation touts itself as a “leading manufacturer” of green paper products. Based on a prior FTC order it was barred it from representing that any product or package is biodegradable unless it had competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claims, which it did not so the FTC imposed a $450,000 civil penalty.

An earlier blog post Gotcha: FTC Enforcement of "VOC Free" Claims for Paint described how green marketing presents an enormously valuable strategy for increasing brand value – cutting across all sectors, but that the legal implications for environmental marketing claims call for caution.

Environmental claims and much more will be the subject of my educational session at Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Philadelphia on Friday, November 22nd at 8:00 a.m.  Register today for “G09: Marketing Green Building: A Competitive Advantage Without Greenwash”.

Photo credit Northland Construction