Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is investigating complaints from an advertising watchdog that "recyclable" claims on much-touted high density polyethylene toothpaste tubes from Colgate-Palmolive Co. break laws around green marketing.
The group Truth in Advertising filed formal complaints on Sept. 11 with Tong, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the Federal Trade Commission alleging that recyclability claims for the tubes deceive consumers and should be scaled back. The group said FTC and states should use the complaint to crack down broadly on green marketing based on technical recyclability, rather than recycling in practice.
Colgate disputes the allegation and says it's properly labeling the 100 percent HDPE tubes, which it has been rolling out for several years, as a better alternative to traditional multilayer plastic and aluminum toothpaste tubes that are largely unrecyclable.
And it said it's been sharing the technology with other companies in an effort to build scale and make the ubiquitous consumer product more widely recycled.
Tong, who has been active on other plastics and recycling issues, said in a statement that he's investigating the complaint.
"Attorney General Tong is aware of complaints that Colgate toothpaste tubes are improperly labeled as recyclable, and he is investigating those complaints," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton. "Greenwashing and deceptive advertising are potentially violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and the attorney general is dedicated to protecting consumers by enforcing that law."
Both FTC and Bonta's office declined to comment.
In its complaint, Truth in Advertising said that while it's "admirable" that Colgate is trying to develop a tube that may one day be recycled, right now they aren't being collected at anywhere close to the 60 percent recycling access levels required for broad claims in FTC's Green Guides for environmental marketing.
It wants the agencies to clip Colgate's language and said the company "should not be making any recycling claims until it can fully comply with the FTC Green Guides."
"Colgate-Palmolive is engaging in a quintessential case of greenwashing by marketing its toothpaste tubes as recyclable and taking advantage of eco-conscious consumers who make purchasing decisions they believe benefit the environment," said Bonnie Patten, TINA's executive director.
But Colgate said the watchdog group's allegations "are without merit" and said that both its Colgate and Tom's of Maine brands, which use the tubes, qualify their claims by telling consumers they need to check with their local recycling facilities.
It said it's worked to develop tubes entirely from HDPE because it's one of the most recycled plastics in the U.S.
"Importantly, and despite the technical challenges, we chose to make our tubes from high density polyethylene, the same plastic used for detergent bottles and milk jugs, to be compatible with the No. 2 HDPE bottle recycling stream," Colgate said. "That stream is one of the most widely accepted in the U.S., and HDPE has among the highest plastic recycling rates.
"We're proud to have pioneered a first-of-its-kind toothpaste tube recognized as recyclable and to have shared our technology with others to speed the industrywide transformation we see today, with all major toothpaste brands publicly committing to transition their tube portfolios," the New York-based consumer goods maker said.