The American Plastics Council has agreed with the attorneys general of 11 states to limit and refocus the language it uses in advertising to avoid potentially confusing or deceptive refer-ences to the recycling and recyclability of plastics. The agreement, announced Dec. 20 with the attorneys general of California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, seeks to define for the first time what claims can and cannot be made about plastic recycling in light of inconsistency in the collection, processing and end use of plastics nationwide.
Without admitting fault or negligence, the Washington-based APC also agreed to pay $10,000 to each of the states to be used for environmental litigation and enforcement purposes, and to furnish more specific data about the availability of recycling options in any future advertising.
The agreement stemmed from objections states raised about a 1992-93 APC ``Take Another Look At Plastic'' ad campaign.
``These advertisements were misleading because they overstated the environmental benefits of plastic products and the impact of plastics recycling,'' New York Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco said in a statement announcing the agreement.
Jimmy Hendricks, a spokesman for APC, said the advertising at issue ran in print media only, and was last used in 1993.
One advertisement mentioned the recyclability of packaging materials in relation to its possible reuse in carpeting, and the other pitched the environmental benefits of plastics in an outdoor picnic setting.
At the core of the states' contention was the advertisements' claims that 650 million pounds of plastic was recycled annually nationwide and that 4,400 communities included plastic in their curbside collection programs. The states argued that the claims could have left the reader with the impression that all plastics were collected and recycled in all communities, which is not the case.
``The discussions with the AGs really started along broader lines about recycling in general, but focused on these two ads,'' Hendricks said. ``We think both sides came away happy with the agreement, in that it helps us to feel the pulse of what is expected in these states and by the public.
``We have changed the focus of our advertising since these ads ran,'' he said. ``We now focus on the role played by plastic in everyday life, and we will continue to communicate with the general public about that.''
The parties agreed that future recycling claims ``should be made in a manner that clearly discloses the availability of the advertised option,'' he said. Any claims or statements about recycling will be accompanied by disclaimers that call consumers' attention to the fact that all plastics are not recyclable in all communities, and that certain or all plastics may not be recycled or recyclable in their particular community. The disclaimers would urge consumers to consult local authorities to determine if or what plastics were recycled or recyclable.
Red Cavaney, APC's president and chief executive officer, said competing materials will likely have to consider the same guidelines in their future advertisements.
``The plastics industry gains because it ensures a level playing field of environmental requirements for all materials advertisers,'' Cavaney said.
Since the attorneys' general release of the Green Report in 1990, the 11 state prosecutors have argued that recycling claims should not be made unless the advertised option is currently available to local customers. The adoption of federal guidelines in 1992 failed to address the question.
The voluntary agreement paves the way to less ambiguous wording of environmental advertising claims, but may not be accepted as gospel for the entire country by the Federal Trade Commission.
The agreement followed by a week the extensive review of FTC environmental advertising guidelines that brought more than 40 state, federal and private participants together in Washington. But participants were unsure of the impact of the agreement on any proposed changes in the 1992 FTC guidelines, which are not expected to appear in final edited form for several months.
Michael Dershowitz, attorney for the advertising practices section of the Federal Trade Commission, noted, ``We're going to take a look at [the agreement] and see whether it can be applied'' to the federal guidelines.
``It doesn't go beyond what the [federal] guides say in terms of claims,'' he said. Dershowitz stressed the FTC ``does not have a position on it at this time.''
Mary B. Griffin, assistant Massachusetts attorney general in Boston, said, ``All we asked was that when [the APC] made claims, we'd like them to be more clear. We're enforcing state laws.''
Griffin, who worked to produce the agreement and addressed the FTC forum, said the agreement has no bearing on federal law.