If your clients make environmental claims, the FTC staff just sent 20 warning letters you’ll want to tell them about. The subject is doggie bags and leftovers – but not that kind of doggie bag and definitely not that kind of leftover.
Who got the letter? Companies that sell dog waste bags marketed as “biodegradable” and “compostable.” Considerate dog owners (and ones who want to comply with local laws) use the bags to tidy up after Fido. That’s where the problem starts – because once they’ve been used, most of those bags go into the trash. And most trash goes into landfills. And most stuff in landfills doesn’t go anywhere for a long, long time.
A marketer making an unqualified degradable claim should have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire item will completely break down and return to nature (i.e., decompose into elements found in nature) within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. It is deceptive to make an unqualified degradable claim for items entering the solid waste stream if the items do not completely decompose within one year after customary disposal.
The Guides go on to say, “Unqualified degradable claims for items that are customarily disposed in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities are deceptive because these locations do not present conditions in which complete decomposition will occur within one year.”
The warning letters point out a similar problem with marketing the bags as “compostable.” According to the Green Guides, unqualified “compostable” claims may be deceptive if the item cannot be composted safely, timely, and easily in a home compost pile or device; if the bags are likely to be disposed of in a landfill; or if compost facilities in the area don’t typically accept the item in question.
Most commercial and municipal composting facilities don’t accept dog waste in their systems and home composting requires careful processing to avoid possible health hazards.
The warning letters point marketers to the relevant sections of the Green Guides and suggest they take a second look to make sure their claims are substantiated.
The FTC has resources for business on keeping environmental claims compliant – because when it comes to green marketing, no one wants to land in (we’re just quoting President Bush here) deep doo-doo.