Guidelines for using environmental marketing claims have been established by the Federal Trade Commission. The guides themselves are not enforceable regulations, nor do they have the force and effect of law. These guides specifically address the application of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act that makes deceptive acts and practices in or affecting commerce unlawful to environmental advertising and marketing practices. Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims provide the basis for voluntary compliance with such laws by members of industry and are available from the EPA and the FTC. The guides apply to advertising, labeling, and other forms of marketing to consumers and do not preempt state or local laws or regulations. Generally, environmental claims must specify application to the product, the package, or a component of either. Environmental claims should not overstate the environmental attributes or benefit. Every express and material implied claim conveyed to consumers about an objective quality should be substantiated and other broad environmental claims should be avoided or qualified.
A product which purports to offer an environmental benefit must be backed with factual information. Green Guides govern claims that consumer products are environmentally safe, recycled, recyclable, ozone-friendly, or biodegradable. These guides apply to environmental claims included in labeling, advertising, promotional materials, and all other forms of marketing. The guides apply to any claim about the environmental attributes of a product, package, or service in connection with the sale, offering for sale, or marketing of such product, package, or service for personal, family, or household use, or for commercial, institutional, or industrial use.
According to the guidelines, a product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from the solid waste stream for reuse or in the manufacture or assembly of another package or product through an established recycling program. Products or packages that are made of both recyclable and non-recyclable components must have any recyclable claim adequately qualified to avoid consumer deception about which portions or components of the product or package are recyclable. Claims of recyclability should be qualified to the extent necessary to avoid consumer deception about any limited availability of recycling programs and collection sites. If an incidental component significantly limits the ability to recycle a product or package, a claim of recyclability would be deceptive. A product or package that is made from recyclable material, but, because of its shape, size, or some other attribute, is not accepted in recycling programs for such material, should not be marketed as recyclable.
Likewise, claims that a product or package is degradable, biodegradable, or photodegradable should be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature, i.e., decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short time after customary disposal. Claims of degradability, biodegradability, or photodegradability should be qualified to the extent necessary to avoid consumer deception about the product or package’s ability to degrade in the environment where it is customarily disposed and the rate and extent of degradation.
A recycled content claim may be made only for materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the solid waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer) or after consumer use (post-consumer). To the extent the source of recycled content includes pre-consumer material, the manufacturer or advertiser must have substantiation for concluding that the pre-consumer material would otherwise have entered the solid waste stream. In asserting a recycled content claim, distinctions may be made between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials. Where such distinctions are asserted, any express or implied claim about the specific pre-consumer or post-consumer content of a product or package must be substantiated. For products or packages that are only partially made of recycled material, a recycled claim should be adequately qualified to avoid consumer deception about the amount, by weight, of recycled content in the finished product or package. Additionally, for products that contain used, reconditioned, or remanufactured components, a recycled claim should be adequately qualified to avoid consumer deception about the nature of such components. No such qualification would be necessary in cases where it would be clear to consumers from the context that a product’s recycled content consists of used, reconditioned, or remanufactured components.