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US Federal Trade Commission warns against deceptive claims oxo-degradable marketers

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.

The marketers were notified 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). These guides, which were recently revised, help marketers avoid making environmental marketing claims that are unfair or deceptive. Among other modifications, the guides advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal.

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."

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, who identified the 15 marketers as part of its ongoing review of green claims in the marketplace, advised the marketers that consumers understand the terms "oxodegradable" or "oxo biodegradable" claims to mean the same thing as "biodegradable." The agency gave them a short space of time to tell them whether 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.

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