Australia's national business watchdog has published an online guide explaining potential legal pitfalls in making unsubstantiated claims about the environmental performance of plastic single-use shopping bags.
The Canberra-based Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its new guide as most of the nation's federal, state and territory environment ministers continue debating ways to reduce use of disposable polyethylene bags, estimated to total 4 billion a year.
Two jurisdictions, South Australia and the Northern Territory, already have implemented or foreshadowed their own legislative bans, ahead of any agreement on a national approach.
In its guide, ACCC said manufacturers or retailers making false or misleading environmental claims about plastic bags can breach Australia's Trade Practices Act. The law carries a maximum fine of A$1.1 million (US$990,000).
ACCC said plastic bags should not be described in vague terms, such as environmentally friendly, environmentally safe, planet safe, or green, unless the claims can be supported by verifiable testing methods.
Omitting relevant information also risks breaking the law.
If you put 'recyclable' on a product when it can be recycled only in limited circumstances, this could be a misrepresentation through silence, the guide says.
Even imagery used in advertisements can land companies in hot water. Be aware that images can act like words. If you have an image of the earth or a forest on your plastic bags or packaging, this may be considered a sweeping claim that a product has environmental benefits, which may be misleading.
Business operators also must be careful if claiming their bags meet voluntary or mandatory environmental standards, including the Australian standard on biodegradable plastics (AS4736–2006) or similar benchmarks in Europe (EN13432) or the U.S. (ASTM6400).
If your product does not meet that standard's requirements or has not been accredited as claimed, you risk breaching the Trade Practices Act, the guide says.
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