SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (Nov. 2:30 p.m. ET) — A consortium that is working to develop a standard that plastic products can meet to be called biodegradable says it does not understand the timing of a lawsuit about biodegradable containers filed by the state of California.
The lawsuit was filed in late October charging Enso Plastics and two companies that sell bottled water with making false claims about biodegradability.
All three companies have said that they stand behind the biodegradability of their products. Regardless, both bottled water companies — Aquamantra Inc. and Balance Water LLC — say they will remove the world biodegradable from their labels to comply with the current state law, SB 568, which prohibits the use of the word on bags, and on food and beverage packaging.
Enso also said “it has all intentions of working with the California Attorney General to comply with the labeling law.”
That state law, however, is being superseded by SB 567, a law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and extend that labeling ban to all plastic products.
The Plastics Environmental Council — a consortium of companies, scientists, environmentalists, academics, engineers and landfill and compost operators that was formed one year ago — contends the implementation was pushed back from Jan. 1, 2012, so it could develop its standard.
But Californians Against Waste—a non-profit environmental group in Sacramento that advocates waste reduction and recycling policies and programs—says the implementation date was changed to allow time to clear existing mislabeled products off the shelf.
“With all due respect, the statements [issued by PEC] regarding some kind of ‘deal' on the use of the term ‘biodegradable' in the context of SB 567 are misinformed and simply not accurate,” said CAW Executive Director Mark Murray. “The amendment delaying implementation of SB 567 to January 1, 2013, was a political accommodation to get [PEC] to remove their opposition to the bill. It was our understanding that the request for the delay was intended to allow time to clear shelves of mislabeled products.”
But PEC chairman Robert McKnight, a former Florida state legislator, disagreed.
“The conversations among the PEC and the legislature culminated in ... an agreement ... to allow the time needed for the PEC to complete the development of the biodegradation standard specification that the Legislature wanted,” said McKnight in a statement issued Nov. 1 by PEC, whose main office is in Milton, Ga.
“The Attorney General may not be aware of the timing that was agreed upon by her state legislature ... to allow completion of our currently ongoing R&D program to develop a biodegradability standard specification acceptable to the State Senate's Environmental Quality Committee,” he said.
PEC has a research project with Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University to develop a standard that will reliably project the biodegradation of conventional plastics that have been treated with additives that enhance biodegradation.
Over the course of several months last spring, PEC said it presented to several California lawmakers and their technical advisors its plans, as well as “a large body of laboratory-scale testing data” that was conducted under conditions that approximate those found in landfills in the wetter parts of the US and which are accessible to just under half of the population.
“Given this mandate to get the standard specification job done by that time, the PEC's members made the major commitment required to push the project through,” said McKnight. “Assuming that the R&D indeed produces the needed standard specification and that it is incorporated into a further amended SB567 by January 01, 2013, the ... the cited companies will be in compliance with the new law.”
“We want to partner with the State of California to provide indisputable research data on this important environmental issue in the form of a bonafide ASTM or equivalent standard specification that readily communicates proven biodegradation information to the consumer,” McKnight said.
But even if such a standard is developed, Murray said that CAW would be opposed to its use.
“There is unanimity of opinion among landfill engineers and environmentalists that biodegradation of plastics in landfills has zero environmental benefit,” charged Murray. “If biodegradation of plastics in landfills were to occur, it would result in the generation of methane pollution which landfills are required to control and capture. We remain opposed to attempts to market plastic products as ‘environmentally beneficial' by virtue of any biodegradable attributes.”
“CAW strongly supports the Attorney General Kamala Harris in her office's ongoing effort to challenge false and misleading environmental claims,” said Murray. “These claims deceive consumers and undermine California businesses that are actually doing something to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.”
Enso Plastics, based in Mesa, Ariz., disagreed.
“The situation in California is a lack of education and misunderstanding new technologies,” said Enso president Danny Clark. “We do not claim that biodegradability is a silver bullet, but it is a huge step in the right direction. This is not an issue of false claims. We will take this opportunity to bring legislators up to speed with Enso technologies and the value they bring to the environment.”
Enso Vice President Del Andrus agreed. “This is basically a labeling and education issue that Enso will overcome with sound science and validation to support our technology.”