Two companies that supply newspaper bags are arguing over one's environmentally friendly claims. An independent advertising arbitrator has become involved in the dispute, telling GP Plastics Inc. to stop making the claims.
Although The New York Times on Dec. 9 halted plans to switch to the product, Dallas-based GP Plastics is sticking to its guns.
The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus said Dec. 4 that because it lacked supporting evidence to refute a competitor's complaint, GP should stop claiming its PolyGreen bags, which are made from polyethylene with a nonstarch additive to encourage decomposition, are 100 percent oxo-biodegradable.
New York-based NAD also said GP's claims that PolyGreen bags are ``the greatest thing ever to hit the earth,'' promising a ``greener tomorrow in the bag,'' through ``saving the planet'' overstates what happens once they're distributed to consumers as packaging.
Chief Executive Officer Mike Skinner defended GP's marketing strategy, saying the ads target publishers, rather than the general public.
``We don't do business with anyone other than the newspaper industry. Our relationships go back 40 years. A lot of the liberties we took, we felt like we were OK,'' he said. Skinner said GP has no plans to alter its advertising.
NAD recommended that GP discontinue its claims of recyclability and modify ads to avoid conveying to consumers that the bags will completely or rapidly degrade in landfills.
The finding came about 60 days after Continental Products Inc. of Mexico, Mo., complained to NAD about GP's claims, which Continental said violate the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guide.
Continental makes the competing Eco-Cycle newspaper bag, which contains at least 20 percent post-industrial recycled plastic. President Carl Fuemmeler said his company considered making a biodegradable product, but decided against it after major recycling companies said they would not accept such bags. He scoffed at GP's claims that its additive helps bags break down in landfills.
``This is the kind of thing that people wish we could do: You could just put some foo-foo dust in the plastic and then throw it away and forget about it and it biodegrades. But if it were that simple, wouldn't the big guys who make the trash bags and every other kind of bag that you can think of be putting the same kind of dust in there? To think that a little-bitty company out of Dallas has got a biodegradable additive that nobody else in the world has is ridiculous,'' Fuemmeler said.
In a follow-up e-mail, Skinner said GP never claimed PolyGreen bags are biodegradable or compostable, because they contain no starch and therefore do not meet the industry-standard ASTJ D6400 specification. Skinner said his company's bags meet the ASTM D6954 standard for oxo-biodegradability. GP and its additive supplier, Willow Ridge Plastics Inc. of Erlanger, Ky., conducted testing to ensure that littered bags degrade within a few months and biodegrade within two to three years, he said. Testing included procedures ``to validate that [the bags] maintained integrity when used as recyclates,'' he added.
Skinner pointed out that NAD has no binding legal authority and said that the council's decision is based ``on unfounded assertions by a frustrated competitor'' rather than on extensive scientific opinion. He defended GP's decision not to provide all the research documents NAD had requested: ``We did provide [NAD] with what we thought was adequate scientific information. We did not want to share 1½ years and trade secrets with our competitor.''
NAD spokeswoman Linda Bean acknowledged that the arbitrator's main role is to allow competitors to resolve disputes over advertising without resorting to litigation.
GP is appealing the NAD decision through its law firm, KelleyDrye & Warren LLP of New York. Skinner said he expects a decision by the appeals committee around the first of the year.