Six U.S. environmental and health groups sent detailed commentary and recommendations to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for updating its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (commonly known as the “Green Guides”), and specifically weighed in on the need to prohibit false plastic recycling claims.
The comprehensive comments, submitted by The Last Beach Cleanup, Just Zero, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Beyond Plastics, Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenpeace USA, emphasize that recyclability and recycled content labels and claims on plastic products and packaging are misleading. They cite a dismal 5%-6% U.S. plastic recycling rate. The fact is that most plastic—including that which is collected for recycling—never gets recycled, and instead ends up in landfills, in the environment, or in someone else’s backyard.
For far too long, it’s been the wild, wild West of product claims and labeling with no sheriff in town. Numerous examples of false and misleading recycling labels used on plastic products and packaging are shown in our submission.– Jan Dell, Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup
A Call for Change
Despite a rise in public awareness of plastic facts, and backlash about the prevalence of unrecyclable and single-use plastics, companies continue to use plastic when designing and packaging their products. In the commentary, the groups call on the FTC to help facilitate changes in companies’ misleading product labeling and marketing practices so that consumers can more easily navigate, by:
• Strengthening the Green Guides requirements and initiate a formal rulemaking process to codify the Green Guides into law;
• Incorporating key provisions from California’s Truth in Labeling Law, which prohibits “Check Locally” and other deceptive labels, into federal regulation;
• Prohibiting store drop-off labels unless the company can demonstrate that the program is proven to capture and recycle at least 75% of the covered materials; and
• Only defining recycled plastic content based on actual physical content from materials that have passed through the hands of individual consumers. The FTC must prohibit the illegitimate “mass balance” approach promoted as part of the plastics industry’s false chemical recycling campaign.
We provide clear and ample evidence of corporate deception on plastics, underscoring the need for the FTC to expand the scope of what is considered harm arising from deceitful, misleading, and false claims about recyclability of plastic products and packaging.– Jackie Nunez, Advocacy & Engagement Manager, Plastic Pollution Coalition
No More Greenwashing
Many companies are engaged in robust and deceptive advertising campaigns designed to convince consumers that worthless plastic waste—such as flexible plastic “films” used for bags and other packaging—is recyclable. Harmful greenwashing tactics used to make plastic appear benign or even beneficial, are popular with plastic producers that seek to sell products. This, despite the fact that plastic pollution is a serious human health, social justice, environmental, climate, and wildlife issue. Meanwhile, real solutions to plastic pollution exist, and these solutions would benefit people and the planet. The groups also pointed out misleading claims around so-called “moonshot” false solutions to plastic pollution—specifically “advanced (chemical) recycling,” which only causes greater pollution and injustice.
Despite the Green Guides’ current recyclability requirements that only products and packaging that are collected, sorted, and processed into new materials may be labeled as “recyclable,” it appears that many product companies and retailers do not fear enforcement by the FTC, as they commonly employ false labels on plastic packaging. The groups pointed out this issue would be well addressed by codifying a strengthened set of Green Guides into law.
The Commission has a critical role in protecting the public from misleading, deceptive, and false marketing claims regarding the recyclability of products and packaging. The Green Guides play a vital role in preventing misinformation from companies regarding the recyclability of their products. The FTC should initiate a formal rulemaking process to codify the Green Guides into enforceable law.– Peter Blair, Policy Director with Just Zero