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Do you get “green” claims?

A topic we seem to be discussing more and more is the use of environmental marketing claims on foodservice packaging. I suppose that's because more and more of you are interested in making claims about your packages – especially to gain a market advantage.

We can certainly appreciate this. But, it’s important that sales, marketing, sustainability and legal teams are all on the same page and understand the "rules of the road" when it comes to putting labels on your products and collateral material.

Want to know why staying compliant is important? Consider the case that Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed against a paper plate manufacturer a couple of years ago. The FTC argued that the company failed to have competent and reliable evidence to substantiate its "biodegradable," "compostable," "recyclable" and "renewable" claims it used on its packaging. A court order subsequently required the company to pay a $450,000 civil penalty. Ouch. [More details on this case may be found here.]

All this can be avoided if you make use of the resources the FTC has available to help you understand its Green Guides and environmental marketing in general.  These include:

·        Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims– the complete text;

·        "Environmental Claims – Summary of Green Guides"four-page summary of the 2012 changes to the Guides;

·        a page on the FTC Business Center, with links to legal documents, the Guides and other “green” content;

·        a Business Center blog post; and

·        related consumer information.

One of the most common areas of confusion is what “recyclable” means and how it’s used on packages. Just because a product can technically be recycled, doesn’t mean you can stamp “recyclable” on it. You also need to take into consideration whether consumers have access to recycle it in their local recycling programs.

According to the Green Guides…

·        if a product's access to recycling rate is 60% or above, you can state "recyclable" without any qualifying language.

·        if the access rate is less than 60%, you’ll want to include something like "This product may not be recyclable in your area."

·        if only a few consumers can recycle the product, you should use stronger qualifying language, i.e. "This product is recyclable only in the few communities that have appropriate recycling programs."

BTW, another thing to consider: even if there is data substantiating access at the 60% threshold for the particular material used to make the product, if there’s something about the product or the way that material is used in the product that renders it unrecyclable or the access data for the material inapplicable, an unqualified claim would likely deceive consumers.

That means documenting which communities accept items for recycling. FPI, along with a number of other associations, are working with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to fund an access study to get this much-needed data for a variety of products, including foodservice packaging. More details on that study when we have them.

Another important element besides access to recycling is the acceptance by the recycling community, including material recovery facilities (MRFs) and the end markets for the recovered materials. That’s where the work of FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance, Plastics Recovery Group and Foam Recycling Coalition comes in.

In 2013, we funded a study to determine acceptance rates for foodservice packaging by 60+ MRFs in the U.S. and Canada and the trends/factors impacting those items' acceptance. The results showed that the three most accepted products are cup sleeves, pizza boxes and paper carryout bags, with rigid plastic items such as cups and takeout containers being accepted by a majority of MRFs included in the study. Other items were accepted by less than 50 percent of the study’s MRFs. The availability of end markets for the recovered materials appeared to be the biggest driver of acceptance, and that’s where the PRA and PRG are focusing their work right now. [If you’d like to participate in FPI’s recovery work, please contact me.]

Environmental marketing claims are a complex issue, and this blog post has only scratched the surface. Also, keep in mind that I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night and I am not a lawyer. If you have additional questions, feel free to ask me. I’m happy to try to answer them or point you to experts that can help you stay compliant with the FTC’s Green Guides.

So, I guess today’s lesson is "think before you label!"

Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 8/18/2015 2:09:20 PM