* This article was originally published in Behind the Scenes.

As part of its effort to ratchet up enforcement on violations of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (or Green Guides), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached two separate settlements with companies accused of making misleading claims involving plastic products. These cases serve as a reminder that companies need to understand the requirements of the Green Guides before making environmental claims.

“Biogradability” Requires Evidence and Disclosures

In the first settlement, the FTC charged Clear Choice Housewares, Inc., Carnie Cap, Inc., and MacNeill Engineering Company (doing business as “CHAMP”) of claiming that their plastic products were biodegradable when it did not appear the companies had any scientific substantiation to support such claims.

“These cases serve as a reminder that companies need to understand the requirements of the Green Guides before making environmental claims.”

In its settlement, the FTC noted that marketers are prohibited from making unqualified biodegradability claims unless an entire product will completely decompose through customary disposal within one year. Were the company to make a qualified claim, the FTC indicated that they would have to either (a) disclose the time that the products would require to completely decompose in close proximity to any claim of biodegradability, or (b) provide a disclosure related to the rate and extent of degradation, along with information related to the fact that the product may not fully decompose.

The companies have been banned from making unsubstantiated environmental claims in the future.

“Recycled Content” Requires Evidence

In a second settlement, E.W. Plastics Corp. (which also does business as “Renew Plastics”), a Wisconsin-based company, was accused of making unsubstantiated claims related to the recyclability of its plastic lumber products. Specifically, the company claimed that one of its products was made with 90 percent or more recycled content.

For other products, the company claimed that a product was mostly post-consumer recycled content and that another was recyclable. In fact, according to the FTC, there was no scientific evidence to prove these claims. As a result, the proposed FTC order requires the defendants to cease making the claims and to have all distributors remove any advertising disseminated prior to December 2013.

Additionally, the defendants will be required to comply with the Green Guides and qualify all recyclability claims unless the advertised product can be recycled in an established recycling program that is available to at least 60 percent of consumers in the communities to which the product is sold.

Substantiate Before You Market

These two actions by the FTC serve as reminders that companies must substantiate all environmental marketing claims and comply with the Green Guides. The FTC is watching for companies that mislead consumers regarding the environmental aspects of their products and packaging.