Staff of the Federal Trade Commission has sent letters warning 15 marketers of “oxodegradable” plastic waste bags that their oxodegradable, oxo biodegradable, or biodegradable claims may be deceptive.
Oxodegradable plastic is made with an additive intended to cause it to degrade in the presence of oxygen. Most waste bags are intended to be deposited in landfills, however, where not enough oxygen likely exists for oxodegradable bags to completely degrade in the time consumers expect. Contrary to the marketing, therefore, these bags may be no more biodegradable than ordinary plastic waste bags when used as intended.
“If marketers don’t have reliable scientific evidence for their claims, they shouldn’t make them,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Claims that products are environmentally friendly influence buyers, so it’s important they be accurate.”
The staff notified 15 marketers that they may be deceiving consumers based on the agency's 2012 revisions to its Guides For the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the Green Guides). Based on studies about how consumers understand biodegradable claims, the Green Guides advise that unqualified “degradable” or “biodegradable” 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 FTC advised marketers that consumers understand the terms “oxodegradable” or “oxo biodegradable” claims to mean the same thing as “biodegradable.” Staff identified the 15 marketers as part of its ongoing review of green claims in the marketplace. It has given them until October 21, 2014, to respond to the warning letters and tell the staff if they will remove their oxodegradable claims from their marketing or if they have competent and reliable scientific evidence proving that their bags will biodegrade as advertised.
The staff notes that marketers who did not receive a letter should not assume that their claims are fine. Staff is not disclosing the recipients of the letters at this time.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Mitchell J. Katz,
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection