National Harbor, Md. — A recycling group and environmentalists want Washington to be much more aggressive in policing claims about the recyclability of plastic packaging, and they're looking to the Federal Trade Commission to get the ball rolling.
The FTC is expected this year to launch a rewrite of its environmental marketing rules for what companies can say on packaging, also known as the Green Guides.
At the recent Plastics Recycling Conference in National Harbor, one plastics group said it hopes the once-in-a-decade revamp of the Green Guides will lead to more enforcement in Washington and, ultimately, a less contaminated stream of recyclables.
"The FTC guidelines can really, in our opinion, have a major, major impact," said Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Association of Plastic Recyclers. "It's the Wild West out there. ... We have to put some speed limits on the Autobahn."
Labeling is a hot topic in the plastics recycling world now.
For example, Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. in February tentatively agreed to a $10 million settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit over recyclability claims for its polypropylene K-Cup coffee pods, as similar lawsuits make their way through the courts.
As well, California state legislators last year passed a tough law that limits use of the chasing arrows and other green marketing claims. Some see the legislation, called SB-343, as the first step in pushing more national action.
What exactly that could look like is very much up in the air, but some see the first update to the FTC Green Guides since 2012 as an important step.
Alexander, speaking on a panel at the recycling conference, said a priority for APR is getting FTC to drop a provision in the Green Guides that allows post-industrial recycled plastic to be labeled as recycled content in consumer packaging.
"We don't agree that post-industrial material should be counted as recycled content for consumer packaging," he said, because consumers see recycled content as coming from packaging they've used and recycled in curbside bins and local programs.
Another panelist, Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Stewardship Action Council, told the conference that pressure is growing on companies because of lawsuits like the one against Keurig and because of the SB-343 legislation.