The plastics industry's attempts to cash in on a green revolution are hitting some hurdles.
The post-consumer recycling stream suffers from a poor infrastructure for collecting and reusing plastics beyond bottles, cutting the ability for businesses to make a real business case for recycling, said Elizabeth Bedard, director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers' rigid plastics recycling program.
At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on companies that make environmental claims about their products potentially affecting those that do not sell directly to the public.
FTC rules extend to business-to-business marketing, said Jean-Cyril Walker, a partner with Washington law firm Keller and Heckman LLP, during the Society of Plastics Engineers' 2009 Annual Blow Molding Conference, held Oct. 6-7 in East Lansing.
A company that is marketing individual parts or resins as environmentally friendly needs to have supporting data, Walker said, and molders cannot merely rely on their suppliers' claims, but must prove that their parts meet FTC rules.
The FTC requires that any labeling must be understood by the general consumer so a claim that a plastic bag is biodegradable because it breaks down in lab testing would raise questions because most consumers would throw that degradable bag into a landfill, where it would remain intact for years, Walker said.
At the same time, a claim that a product is recyclable must show that it can be easily recycled by the consumer in curbside programs not merely that it's technically possible to recycle it, Walker said.
People get excited about using environmental language, but reining in your marketing folks is a lot easier than reining in lawyers, he said.
In June, the FTC accused discount retailer Kmart Corp., insect-repellent maker Tender Corp. and rayon-towel seller Dyna-E International Inc. of making deceptive and unsubstantiated biodegradability claims.
Kmart and Tender both have agreed to stop making the claims, while Dyna-E is still fighting the FTC in court.
Municipal recycling efforts continue to run into problems with the expanding collection of household plastics.
Most communities that offer curbside recycling stick to PET and high density polyethylene which consumers recognize by recycling codes No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, Bedard said.
But polypropylene yogurt cups and margarine tubs remain outside the mainstream, although they are among the most widely used plastics in households.
Consumers want to recycle more, but they run into a lot of negativity toward plastics because they get confused about what they can recycle, she said. What is we need to figure out is how to coordinate more recycling beyond [PET and HDPE].
Copyright 2009 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.