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Three plastics firms will change marketing on 'green' products

By: Gayle S. Putrich

January 10, 2014

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission approved final orders Jan. 6, settling charges that three companies were misrepresenting their plastic products as biodegradable.

Clear Choice Housewares, Inc., based in Leominster, Mass., sold plastic reusable food storage products under the name Farberware EcoFresh label, claiming the EcoPure coating helped the containers break down quickly and completely. Carnie Cap, Inc., based in East Moline, Ill., claimed their plastic-coated caps -- made by another company -- were "100 percent biodegradable." MacNeill Engineering Co., doing business as CHAMP, based in Marlborough, Mass., sold golf tees that it claimed were biodegradable.

Without admitting to wrongdoing, the companies agreed to change how they market their plastic products. Failure to live up to the agreement on biodegradability claims would lead to hefty fines for the companies. Under the FTC's orders, the companies are barred from making claims about how the products break down unless they can be supported with scientific evidence, including proof that all of the plastic will completely decompose within one year in a landfill, incinerator or recycling facility.

A fourth company, American Plastic Manufacturing, Inc. of Seattle, also opted to settle under the same terms, but that final order is still pending following the public comment period, FTC officials say, because the government has not yet responded to one comment entered into the record in November.

"If we get a comment from anyone – even one letter – we have to respond to it," said FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz.

"Thanks to the FTC for pursuing this issue. Citizens need to know that 'green' [sic] claims made on products are truthful," wrote Missouri resident Caroline Pufalt on Nov. 11 in the public comment section of American Plastic Manufacturing's proposed consent agreement.

A fifth company included in the original FTC allegations, Painesville, Ohio-based ECM BioFilms, has not settled, opting to stand by the biodegradability claims of their plastic additives in court. ECM's hearing is set to begin June 18 in Washington.

American Plastic Manufacturing and CHAMP are ECM customers.

ECM claims that plastic products manufactured with the company's additive, "MasterBatch Pellets," will biodegrade in biologically-active environments after more than a year. The company attached an asterisk to the word "biodegradable" on its marketing materials and Web site, pointing to the fact that it will take longer than a year for the material to biodegrade in landfills.

According to the FTC's latest Green Guides, issued in October 2012, a company is allowed to market a product as biodegradable without a qualifier if the product breaks down in less than a year. FTC does not have guidelines on how to market products with a qualifier, the ECM alleges.

ECM president and CEO Robert Sinclair told Plastics News in November that his company went through ASTM 5511 testing that proves the product breaks down, but the FTC said those tests do not properly replicate landfill conditions.