NAD Says "Oxo-Biodegradable" Claims Not Supported

The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) recently issued a decision that several "green" advertising claims GP Plastics made for its PolyGreen plastic bags should be modified or discontinued. Mexico Plastic Company initiated the challenge before NAD. NAD serves as the advertising industry's self-regulatory forum.

Advertisements for the bags, used to deliver newspapers, claim they are "100% oxo-biodegradable" and are "disposable through ordinary channels." Advertisements also claimed that the bags were "completely recyclable." In addition, the advertiser made general claims that the products were "eco-friendly" and "environmentally friendly," promised a "green tomorrow" and would help in "saving the planet." The advertiser cited to tests conducted under ASTM D6954-04 ("Plastics that Degrade in the Environment by a Combination of Oxidation and Biodegradation") among other things as support for the claims, and submitted confidential information to support its position.

The NAD determined there was no evidence to suggest that consumers understood that an "oxo-biodegradable" item was any different from one that was "biodegradable." Citing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides), NAD said that a "biodegradable" product must completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. NAD also said there was no scientific evidence to support GP Plastics' claim the bags would easily break down in a landfill, refuting the company's ads stating the bags were easy to dispose of. In addition, the NAD found that the advertiser had not tested its bag to see if it would be recyclable, observating that oxo-biodegradable plastics may or may not be compatible with the recycling stream, depending on the product .

NAD recommended that GP Plastics discontinue the "100% oxo-biodegradable," "biodegradable," "recyclable," and general environmental claims. GP Plastics announced it will appeal the decision to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).

Environmental claims have received renewed attention with the review over the past year by the FTC of the Green Guides. The FTC held several workshops and received extensive comments on issues and questions related to environmental marketing, including comments on degradability questions. The NAD has issued relatively few decisions on environmental marketing claims in the past few years, but environmental marketing is once again an area of growing concern by regulators and competitors.