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N.E.W. agrees to change marketing claims for plastic lumber

By: Gayle S. Putrich

February 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — A Wisconsin-based plastic lumber manufacturer will stop marketing its products as fully recyclable and made from mostly recycled content under an agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

According to the FTC complaint, N.E.W. Plastics Corp., which also does business as Renew Plastics, has been making false and misleading statements about the Evolve and Trimax brands of plastic lumber. FTC alleges that between September 2012 and March 2013, the company claimed that its Evolve products were made from 90 percent or more recycled high density polyethylene, that its Trimax products were made from primarily post-consumer content like milk jugs and detergent bottles, and that both Evolve and Trimax are completely recyclable.

FTC says that during that time period, "Evolve contained, at most, 58 percent recycled plastic," and the post-consumer content of Trimax products was less than 12 percent on average.

Under the FTC settlement, N.E.W. must have "credible evidence" to support its recycled-content claims and is required to tell its distributors to remove any marketing material for the two products. N.E.W. is also barred by the proposed order from making recyclability claims about any product or package, unless the product or package can be recycled at facilities accessed by at least 60 percent of consumers or communities where the products are sold.

"Evolve and Trimax are not recyclable at recycling facilities available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities where N.E.W. sells them," the complaint says, which renders the company's claims "false and misleading."

The order, which was unanimously adopted by the commission, will be in force for 20 years and violation of its terms, if it is finalized, could lead to steep fines for N.E.W. Plastics.

The proposed consent order will remain open for public comment for 30 days, after which FTC must respond to comments before finalizing the order.

"N.E.W. Plastics regrets that some of our lumber product marketing materials were believed to contain incorrect or unsubstantiated information; it was never our intent to mislead our customers or consumers. It should be noted that we have worked cooperatively with the FTC and that this agreement does not, in any way, involve the quality, reliability or durability of our products nor does it issue any fines," the company said in an emailed statement.

"We have agreed to contact our clients to dispose of current marketing collateral which will be replaced with new materials meeting FTC guidelines. N.E.W. Plastics takes great pride in our high quality products and in being a leader and innovator in plastic recycling technology for more than three decades. We take our commitment to the environment seriously and follow policies and practices that protect the environment for future generations."

While Springdale, Ark.-based Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. gets credit for bringing wood-plastic composite decking to market, plastic lumber was invented by N.E.W.'s founder, Irv Vincent, in 1973. Vincent's family-owned company has also been blow molding containers since 1968.

In May 2009, N.E.W. — which stands for North East Wisconsin — acquired the intellectual property and equipment of the foundering Anderson, Ind.-based Trimax Building Products Inc., a manufacturer of fiberglass-reinforced recycled HDPE structural plastic lumber.