The Federal Trade Commission settled charges with California-based American Plastic Lumber that the company deceptively marketed its products – such as picnic tables, benches, trash bins, wheel stops, and speed bumps – as made virtually entirely of post-consumer recycled content.

APL implied its products were made “virtually all” out of post-consumer recycled content, including milk jugs and detergent bottles, the agency said. For example, one promotional document stated: “APL’s HDPE products are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), UV-inhibited pigment systems, foaming compounds and selected process additives. The HDPE raw material is derived from post-consumer bottle waste, such as milk jugs and detergent bottles…with the resulting finished product containing over 90% recycled plastic by weight.”

But on average the products contained less than 79 percent post-consumer content, the FTC alleged. Worse, 8 percent of the products contained no post-consumer content at all and almost 7 percent contained only 15 percent post-consumer content.

Such deceptive and misleading advertisement over a two-year period violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the agency charged in its administrative complaint.

To settle the charges, APL agreed to a prohibition on making misleading statements about the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic content in its products or other environmental benefit claims. Future claims must be supported by competent and reliable evidence, the agency said, and recycled-content claims must be substantiated by demonstrating that the content was made of materials recovered from the waste stream.

To read the case documents in In the Matter of American Plastic Lumber, click here

Why it matters: The settlement – the second action taken by the agency against a company this year for misleading consumers about the environmental attributes of its products – should serve as a reminder to advertisers to familiarize themselves with the FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims and ensure compliance for any environmental marketing claims.