U.S. Government warns on “compostable” plastic
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a revised version of its “Green Guide” which warns against making deceptive environmental claims. The FTC has power to prosecute in such cases. The FTC says at 260.7(a) that “It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is compostable.”
The FTC has two main concerns. The first was the limited availability of industrial composting facilities, and they warned against claims for compostability if such facilities were not available to a substantial majority of consumers where the item was sold.
The second concern is related to the performance of “compostable” plastics in home and industrial composting. The FTC added that it was not sufficient to show that a test item had complied with ASTM D6400 or D6868, because those standards “likely do not typify compost facility operations nationwide. Rather they reflect “optimum operating conditions and ignore wide variation in actual facility operations.”
Compostable plastics are often marketed as made from renewable materials, but the FTC said (260.16), “It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is made with renewable materials.”
Consumers may be misled by claims of renewability unless they are advised that substantial amounts of non-renewable resources (fossil fuels) are used in the agricultural production process and the polymerization process of bio-based plastics.
With regard to landfilling, Paragraph 260.7 (c) (2) says that “marketers should qualify claims if the claim misleads consumers about environmental benefit when the item is disposed of in a landfill.” Consumers may be deceived if the marketer does not draw attention to the fact that bio-based plastics can generate methane deep in landfill and that methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas.