The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the leading trade organization representing the plastics recycling industry in North America, urged caution today in response to a recent decision by an Administrative Law Judge regarding claims by a manufacturer of biodegradable additives and their use in the marketplace.
(Note: On January 28, 2015, D. Michael Chappell, chief administrative law judge, issued a 323 page initial decision on the suit brought against ECM Biofilms, a degradable additives provider, by the US Federal Trade Commission, FTC. The judge ordered ECM Biofilms to not deceptively state any plastic product or package will completely degrade within any time period and to not deceptively state tests prove such claims).
“This is a decision of reason”, said Steve Alexander, APR Executive Director. “The judge found that the company had violated the law by deceptively claiming plastics with its additive would degrade completely within nine months to five years.”
The FTC Green Guides for environmental claims define biodegradable as “complete decomposition [in] no more than one year after customary disposal.” Following FTC workshops on environmental claims, the definition reflects the public’s understanding of what biodegradable means. To now contravene that understanding is misleading to the consuming public. The initial decision is subject to appeal to the full Commission, but becomes final in 30 days unless the parties appeal or the Commission places the matter on its docket for review.
The judge did confuse the matter by finding the FTC lawyers had not proven the ECM Biofilms advertising implied complete degradation. The judge found the FTC’s expert had not documented his definition of time to complete degradation.
“There is a definition for aerobic biodegradation of plastics,” said Alexander. “The specification in ASTM D6400 requires 90% of the carbon in the plastics to be converted to gas within 180 days. This is a firm definition of time and extent of decomposition.” ASTM D6400 is the only specification on plastics biodegradation issued by the standards organization. All other ASTM standards on the subject are test methods.
Alexander continues, “APR is interested in this matter as degradable additives create a risk of diminished performance properties over the service life for recycled plastics products until proven not to. We have a test protocol to show no harm done and have not seen any data from ECM Biofilms or others showing the protocol limits are met. We encourage the full Commission to confirm the initial restrictive finding and delve deeper into the questions raised by the law judge and confirm the Green Guide biodegradation definition so to bring clarity for the public.”