DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT
Relating to the
Proposed Amendment of the Care Labeling Rule
I. THE PROPOSED ACTION
A. Description of the Proposed Action
The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") proposes to issue a Federal Register notice commencing a rulemaking to amend its Trade Regulation Rule on Care Labeling of Textile Wearing Apparel and Certain Piece Goods, 16 CFR Part 423 ("the Care Labeling Rule" or "the Rule"). Coverage and geographic application of the Rule is nationwide. The Care Labeling Rule was promulgated by the Commission on December 16, 1971, 36 FR 23883 (1971). The Commission amended the Rule to clarify its requirements by identifying in greater detail the washing or dry cleaning information to be included on care labels on May 20, 1983, 48 FR 22733. The Care Labeling Rule, as amended, requires manufacturers and importers of textile wearing apparel and certain piece goods to attach care labels to these items stating "what regular care is needed for the ordinary use of the product." (16 CFR 423.6(a) and (b)). The Rule also requires that the manufacturer or importer possess, prior to sale, a reasonable basis for the care instructions. (16 CFR 423.6(c)). The Commission proposes amending the Rule to: (1) require that an item that can be cleaned by home laundering be labeled with instructions for home laundering; (2) allow that a garment that can be professionally wet cleaned be labeled with instructions for professional wet cleaning; (3) clarify what can constitute a reasonable basis for care instructions; and (4) change the definitions of "cold," "warm," and "hot" water.
B. The Purpose of and the Need for the Proposed Action
The purpose of the proposed action is to prevent unfair and deceptive acts and practices in the sale or offering for sale of textile wearing apparel by ensuring that consumers have adequate and accurate information about methods of care for the products they are purchasing. As part of its continuing review of its trade regulation rules to determine their current effectiveness and impact, the Commission published a Federal Register notice ("FRN") on June 15, 1994. This FRN sought comment on the costs and benefits of the Rule, and related questions such as what changes in the Rule would increase the benefits of the Rule to purchasers and how those changes would affect the costs the Rule imposes on firms subject to its requirements. Based on this review, the Commission determined to seek additional comment on possible amendments to the Rule. On December 28, 1995, the Commission published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). This elicited 64 comments on the several possible amendments of the Rule. Based on the comments and the evidence discussed herein, the Commission proposes to amend the Rule in the above-described ways.
II. ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES
A. Probable Impact on the Environment of the Proposed Action
The proposed amendments to the Rule should have no significant, direct impact on the environment. While the amendments are partially motivated by the Environmental Protection Agency's goal of reducing the use of dry cleaning solvent,(1) they are designed to provide consumers with additional information, which consumers can utilize as they choose. The 1994 FRN asked whether the use of dry cleaning solvents would be lessened, and whether consumers and cleaners could make more informed choices as to cleaning methods, if the Rule were amended to require both washing and dry cleaning instructions for garments cleanable by both methods. The Rule currently requires either a washing instruction or a dry cleaning instruction; it does not require both. Thus, garments that can legally be labeled with a "dry clean" instruction alone also may be washable, a fact not ascertainable from such an instruction.
In the 1995 ANPR, the Commission analyzed the comments submitted in response to the 1994 FRN and proposed amending the Rule to ensure that consumers are provided with information that would allow them the choice of washing garments when possible, or having them professionally wet cleaned, if appropriate. The Commission concluded that lack of such information may result in substantial injury to consumers in the form of unnecessary expense and/or inability to use what they regard as a more environmentally friendly method of care.(2)
The ANPR asked for comment on an amendment of the Rule to require a laundering instruction for all covered products for which laundering is appropriate. The ANPR asked for information about an emerging new technology, professional wet cleaning, and asked whether the Rule should be amended to require a professional wet cleaning instruction for products that cannot be laundered at home, provided professional wet cleaning would be an appropriate care method. Based on the comments received, the Commission proposes amending the Rule to require that all covered products that can be home-laundered be labeled for home laundering, and that labeling for professional wet cleaning be allowed, but not required.
Because the proposed amendments focus on providing information to consumers, who can then choose a cleaning method based on a variety of factors and how important those factors are to them, it is unlikely that the proposed amendments will have a direct effect on the environment. It is possible, however, that by indirectly influencing marketing behavior and consumer decisions, the proposed amendments might indirectly affect the environment. This possibility is addressed below.
Although there is no hard evidence on which to base a prediction of consumers' actions, the American public is increasingly concerned about environmental issues. Therefore, it seems likely that, given the additional information that the amendments to the Rule propose, some consumers may choose to wash more garments at home or to have them professionally wet cleaned rather than dry cleaned. Thus, the proposed amendments could have a secondary/indirect effect of decreasing the use of harmful dry cleaning solvents, but this effect depends on consumer decisions that cannot be quantified or even reasonably estimated since those decisions are influenced by many other variables (e.g., price, convenience of dry cleaning versus washing or professional wet cleaning, and the degree to which consumers believe dry cleaning is damaging to the environment). If more garments are cleaned with water than are currently cleaned with water, that would also have some environmental effect, but the extent of that effect is even more difficult to predict because, in addition to being influenced by the variables described above (i.e., price, convenience, etc.), it would depend on the efficiency of the equipment used for home laundering and for professional wet cleaning. Improvements in the efficiency of such equipment are likely to occur over time but are impossible to predict. Moreover, any changes in consumer laundering/cleaning habits will occur gradually over time and over a very wide area geographically. Any indirect impact of the proposed amendments on the environment would therefore be highly speculative and impossible to accurately predict or measure.
B. Alternatives to the Proposed Action and Their Impacts
An alternative to the proposed action is to leave the Rule as it is, which will leave consumers with less information about the "washability" of garments they are considering purchasing than they desire. The effect of the current Rule on the environment, however, is indirect and too speculative to attempt to quantify for the reasons discussed above.
As stated above, the purpose of the proposed action is to provide consumers with more information so that they can make more informed decisions about cleaning their garments. Other methods of providing this information are conceivable, but providing the information on the care label is probably the most efficient method of communication. Regardless of the method of communication, however, the effect on the environment would be the same and would depend on consumer decisions, which are influenced by price, convenience, beliefs about environmental harm, and so forth.
In sum, although any evaluation of the environmental impact of the proposed amendments is highly speculative, the Commission finds no evidence of unavoidable adverse impacts stemming from the proposed action. The EPA, which has supported the amendment of the Rule, believes that the proposed action will have positive effects, but that those positive effects are so speculative and widely dispersed that they must be described as insignificant.
C. List of Preparers
D. List of Agencies, Organizations, and Persons to Whom Copies of the Assessment Were Sent
In accordance with section 1.83(3) of the FTC's Procedures and Rules of Practice and section 1508.9(4) of the Council on Environmental Quality's Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Commission finds that the proposed amendments to the Rule will not result in a significant impact on the environment and that an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") is therefore not required.
This opinion is based on the findings in this Environmental Assessment ("Assessment") that there would be no quantifiable environmental impact as a result of the proposed amendments. Consumer behavior as a result of the promulgation of proposed amendments may change but cannot be quantified or even reasonably estimated since consumer decisions would be influenced by many variables other than the information provided on the care label. The proposed amendments also do not impose standards on methods of cleaning apparel, and industry response to the proposed amendments is also impossible to predict or quantify. The alternatives to amendment of the Rule, described above, would also have, at most, only an indirect and highly speculative impact on the environment.
The Commission believes that any environmental impact that might result if the proposed amendments are adopted is too speculative and diffuse to predict. Therefore, the Commission finds that no significant impact on the environment would result if the proposed amendments are adopted. Accordingly, an EIS is unnecessary in these circumstances.
Further information about the Federal Trade Commission's proposed amendments to the Care Labeling Rule be obtained from:
1. The 1994 FRN noted that the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") had been working with the dry cleaning industry to reduce the public's exposure to perchloroethylene ("PCE" or "perc"), the most common dry cleaning solvent, and asked whether the Rule posed an impediment to this goal.
2. 60 FR 67104-05 (Dec. 28, 1995).
3. 16 CFR § 1.83.
4. 40 CFR § 1508.9.