We posted yesterday on the FTC's proposed revisions to its Green Guides. As a follow-up, we will post periodically with more details on specific issues addressed in the FTC's proposed revisions. First up is "biodegradable/compostable".
Biodegradable - Solids
Most stuff, at least solid stuff, we throw away ends up in landfills; 66% ends up in landfills or incinerators according to the FTC. Landfills are dark places with little if any air and water. Not only are these things necessary for all of us to survive, they're also essential for the natural processes that lead to biodegradation. Degradability claims account for the highest number of environmental marketing cases, and the FTC has brought a number of cases, including some recent ones, challenging biodegradable claims for products which are destined to spend their eternal rest in landfills. At the same time, science is working to solve this problem. For example, NAD addressed a claim that a plastic bag was oxo biodegradable, and a running shoe company is touting a sneaker midsole that it claims will biodegrade in landfills. In both cases, however, the products still required a significant amount of time to biodegrade; 2-3 years in the case of the plastic bag and 20 years for the sneaker product.
In its proposed revisions, the FTC has decided that a bright line rule might be easier for everyone. So it's out with "decompose . . . within a reasonably short period of time after . . . disposal" and in with "must completely decompose within one year." This "one year" rule is based upon consumer expectations as to how long it should take for a biodegradable product to decompose. Of course, since Section 5 is all about disclosures, you can still make a biodegradable claim if the process will take longer than a year but you have to qualify the claim by stating how long it will take. So the next time you buy paper plates perhaps you'll see the claim -- "Biodegradable**in several hundred years." Despite being urged to do so, the Commission also declined to endorse any particular testing protocol because it could not identify any that accurately replicated the heterogeneous conditions typically found in landfills.
Bottom line - Don't expect to see many biodegradable claims for solid waste.