What’s Making News?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sent out 15 letters warning makers of plastic bags that claims indicating that such bags are “oxodegradable,” “oxo biodegradable,” or “biodegradable” may be viewed as deceptive under the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the Green Guides). According to the letters, the claims fail to comply with Green Guides requirements.

What Was the Problem?

Several plastic bag makers have started to make claims regarding their oxodegradable plastic bags. The bags are made with a special additive that causes them to degrade in the presence of oxygen. While this is helpful, the FTC noted that most plastic bags are disposed of in landfills where there is not likely to be enough oxygen present to completely breakdown such bags in a time in which many consumers would expect. Notably, and based on studies regarding how consumers interpret biodegradability claims, the Green Guides discourage unqualified biodegradability and degradability claims for any item that is customarily disposed of in a landfill, incinerator, or recycling facility given that such facilities do not provide an ideal environment for complete decomposition. Given this, claims touting a bag as oxodegradable where the bag is disposed of in a manner that does not permit its degradation may be viewed as deceptive due to the fact that the bags are not actually any more helpful to the environment than typical plastic bags when used and disposed of in a customary fashion.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

All companies should be aware of the FTC’s recent activity in the area of environmental benefit claims. Any company touting the environmental benefits of its products and services should be mindful of the Green Guides and their requirements. Further, any company claiming that their products are biodegradable should be aware of the recent letters sent related to “oxodegradable” plastic bags. For more information on the Green Guides, please see our earlier alert, available here.