FTC Expands Definition of "Recyclable" and "Recycled" Claims Agency Updating Its "Green Guides"

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today announced it has revised a portion of its Environmental Marketing Guides ("Green Guides") to expand the definitions of certain terms to reflect current consumer perceptions about what the terms "recyclable," "recycled" and "compostable" mean. The revisions also clarify that the guides apply to all forms of marketing, including digital or electronic media, such as the Internet, and the marketing of services, as well as products and packages.

"Kermit the Frog says, 'It isn’t easy being green,'’ said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But today is Earth Day and we know that consumers who are willing to pay more for products that are ecologically sound also want to know what marketers green claims mean. So, we are trying to make it a little easier by ensuring that the claims 'recyclable' and 'compostable' are clear and understandable," said Bernstein.

The FTC "Green Guides" were first announced in July 1992 and revised in October 1996. The guides are intended to help reduce consumer confusion and prevent the false or misleading use of environmental terms in the advertising and labeling of products in the marketplace. The revised guides retain the section on general advertising principles, and continue to address specific categories of environmental benefit claims, such as degradable and ozone friendly.

The Commission has revised the guides to expand the terms "recyclable" and "recycled content." The guides now make clear that "recyclable" includes the reuse, reconditioning, and remanufacturing of products or parts in another product. Similarly, "recycled content" includes products and packages that contain reused, reconditioned or remanufactured materials, as well as recycled raw material. Previously, "recyclable" included only those products or packages that were reused in the form of "raw materials" in the manufacture or assembly of a "new" package or product. According to the FTC, the expansion of the terms "recyclable" and "recycled content" is consistent with consumer understanding. It also reflects that it is better for the environment to recycle by reusing, since reuse is likely to consume fewer resources than recycling from raw materials. The revised Recycled Content guide also provides that if advertisers use the term "recycled" to describe a product that has been reused, reconditioned or remanufactured, they must disclose that the product has been recycled through reuse, etc., unless that fact is otherwise clear from the context.

In addition, the FTC amended the Compostable guide to clarify that an unqualified compostable claim can be made if a product or package is compostable at home, even if municipal or institutional composting facilities are not available locally.

Among other additions and changes to the guides are the following:

  • the local availability disclaimer suggested in the Recyclable guide is changed from "Check to see if recycling facilities exist in your area" to "Recycling programs for this [product or package] may not exist in your area" or "This [package or product] may not be recyclable in your area";
  • an example has been added to the Recyclable guide to show that the phrase "Please Recycle" is equivalent to a "recyclable" claim and thus limits the unqualified usage of that phrase;
  • an example has been added that allows a "recyclable" claim, even if no municipal recycling collection program exists, if the manufacturer or retailer sets up a collection and recycling program for that product and explains that the product is recyclable through that program; and
  • clarifies that the guides apply to the marketing of services, as well as products and packages, and that it covers electronic marketing, such as the Internet or e-mail.

The Commission vote to revise the guides was 5-0. The revised guides will be published in the May 1, 1998 Federal Register and become effective immediately.

Copies of the notice to be published in the Federal Register announcing the revised guides are available from the FTC’s web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.

(FTC Matter No. P954501)

Additional Contact Information

Media Contact:
Brenda Mack,
Office of Public Affairs
Staff Contact:
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Mary K. Engle or Janice Podoll Frankle
202-326-3161 or 202-326-3022