- The Federal Trade Commission has set a new environmental policy that products can no longer display the term "biodegradable" unless the product is proven to break down into natural elements within five years after disposal.
- The policy follows a recent crackdown on claims of biodegradable products. In late 2014, the FTC sent warning letters to 15 "oxodegradable" plastic bag marketers that their eco-friendly claims were misleading. The FTC also took action against six companies — including ECM Biofilms, which makes an additive that accelerates biodegradation of plastics — stating that the companies made false environmental marketing claims.
- The FTC administrative law judge ruled in January that ECM Biofilms' additive proved effective biodegradability. However, the FTC rejected the decision, leaving ECM Biofilms feeling "an egregious instance of abuse of agency discretion," according to Jonathan Emord of Emord & Associates.
In the case of ECM Biofilms, frustration toward the FTC is understandable considering the ALJ's ruling. The decision that ECM's products are biodegradable was based on scientific evidence and "more than 20 gas evolution tests that prove intrinsic biodegradability," according to Environmental Leader.
However, the FTC's ruling to provent products from being marketed as "biodegradable" is an important step in the right direction for the waste industry. If products are being improperly disposed due to their labeling, the effects can backfire on the environment and on consumers. This instance was exemplified in September when homes in Minnesota were clogged and damaged due to "flushable" wipes being disposed of down toilets. A city couple was left with three inches of sewage waste and sanitary products in their furnished basement on New Year's Eve, and was awarded $15,000 by the city for the damages.
When it comes to recycling or composting, labeling is key to reduce confusion among consumers and keep the environment safe.