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FTC Approves Final Order on Deceptive Biodegradable Plastics Claims

As part of a crackdown on misleading and unsubstantiated environmental marketing claims, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a final order settling charges that a company that manufactures plastic shopping bags made misleading and unsubstantiated biodegradability claims for its products. The final order, issued May 2, 2014, is the fourth resulting from a set of "green" marketing cases, first announced in October 2013. All of the cases are part of FTC's program to ensure compliance with the commission's Green Guides.

Under FTC's May 2 final order, the company is prohibited from making any unqualified biodegradability claims about any product unless it has evidence that the entire plastic product will completely decompose into elements found in nature within one year after customary disposal. In particular, the order states that ASTM D5511 cannot substantiate unqualified biodegradability claims or claims beyond the results and parameters of the test and that any testing protocol used to substantiate degradable claims must simulate the conditions found in the disposal environment. To make qualified claims, the company must provide information on the rate and extent of degradation in a landfill or other disposal facility.

Earlier this year, in January, FTC approved three final orders for related cases. The original enforcement actions, initiated last October, also included one action against a company that markets an additive it claims makes plastic products biodegradable. That case has not been settled yet. (For more information on the Green Guides, which were revised in 2012, see the article, FTC Finalizes Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims).