FTC's Green Guides are essential
Now that the Federal Trade Commission has clarified its guidelines on proper use of the resin identification code, the plastics industry needs to get in line with the new rules quickly.
FTC released its revised Environmental Marketing Guides — dubbed the ``Green Guides'' — on Earth Day, April 22. The revisions were made to reflect consumer perceptions about the terms ``recyclable,'' ``recycled'' and ``compostable.''
Any plastics company currently using any of those terms in its marketing should become familiar with the new regulations right away — they took effect May 1.
Tucked away within the rules, however, was a change that affects many plastics companies. It refers to the ubiquitous Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. resin identification code, which 39 states now require on some types of plastic packaging.
According to the new rules, ``the placement of an SPI code in a conspicuous location may constitute a claim of recyclability, and thus, may have to be qualified to disclose the limited availability of recycling programs for that package or product.''
When it comes to rigid packaging, the rule is pretty easy to understand. It's OK to use the SPI code in an inconspicuous place on the bottom of a container. If you put the code on the package label, FTC figures you're trying to convince consumers the package is recyclable and environmentally friendly — and you must be prepared to back up that implied claim.
But the FTC rule isn't quite as clear for other uses. For example, when and where is it OK to use the code on grocery and carryout bags, fast-food cup lids, dry cleaning bags, big rotational molded toys and promotional drink cups? Not to mention durable goods that carry the code so dismantlers can identify and recycle the products.
FTC contends that most companies do display the code inconspicuously. That seems true. But many examples exist of companies using the code in ways that the agency now condemns.
FTC's Green Guides, introduced in 1992, have reigned in what was once a proliferation of environmentally related marketing claims. The newest revisions make sense, and the plastics industry needs to familiarize itself with both the letter and the spirit of these regulations — or some firms may find themselves paying the consequences.
Industry shoot 'em up
It's the nature of the plastics industry — one process or material picks off an attractive niche application from a nonplastics material, and pretty soon everybody else in the plastics industry is gunning for the new king.
The newest example: Shell Chemical Co.'s Carilon polymers have taken aim at the market for automotive fuel tanks and air-intake manifolds. Fuel tanks only recently have begun a major switch from steel to high density polyethylene, and manifolds have converted from metal to nylon.
Can Carilon wrest the title from the new champions? Time will tell — but even if it doesn't, you can bet another challenger will try.