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Let's Ban 'Biodegradable'

Wow! How’s that for an attention-grabbing title? I am not suggesting that we ban biodegradable packaging, but instead that we ban using the term “biodegradable.” Here’s why…

FPI staff spends a good deal of time with other packaging organizations and allied associations representing various parts of the supply chain. There’s a growing sentiment among these groups that we should all stop using the term “biodegradable” because it can be misleading and is often misunderstood.

What does “biodegradable” mean, anyway? Consumers often think using “biodegradable” packaging is good because it will decompose if littered or tossed in a landfill. There are two problems right there. First, packaging should NEVER be littered, no matter what it’s made from. End of discussion. Second, the theory that using a biodegradable product is better for landfills is also a load of crap because packaging shouldn’t end up in landfills in the first place. There are much better end of life – or second life, as the case may be – options for packaging, such as recycling, composting or energy recovery.

But perhaps there’s an even better reason to consider not using the term “biodegradable” on our packaging. At FPI, we’ve had a high-ranking official from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) speak at several of our meetings in the last few years. Our members want to be kept up to date on the latest guidance on environmental marketing claims so that they may be in compliance. Let’s take a look at exactly what the FTC’s “Guides For The Use Of Environmental Marketing Claims” (a.k.a. the “Green Guides”) say:

It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is degradable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, or photodegradable.

More importantly, the Guides go on to say:

It is deceptive to make an unqualified degradable claim for items entering the solid waste stream if the items do not completely decompose within one year after customary disposal. Unqualified degradable claims for items that are customarily disposed in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities are deceptive because these locations do not present conditions in which complete decomposition will occur within one year.

Want another reason to reconsider using “biodegradable” on a foodservice package? FTC is cracking down on the use of this claim, and a converter of paper plates (a non-FPI member!) was recently cited for making unsubstantiated biodegradability claims. More information on the announcement may be found here.

We are all product stewards for the foodservice packaging industry, and together we can play an active role in educating our customers and/or consumers, providing only the most meaningful claims on our packaging and complying with regulations. That’s a win for everyone.




Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 4/8/2014 12:59:21 PM