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Strict rules coming on use of the 'R words.' (recycled and recyclable)

For the past few months, the Federal Trade Commission has been exploring ways to clarify environmental claims in advertising and labeling, including use of terms such as "recycled" and "recyclable." Last month, an FTC spokesman told PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY that no timetable has been set for action, which could come in the form of either voluntary guidelines or firm regulations.

No details of FTC proposals have yet been made public, but plastics industry lobbyists say any federal proposal will probably mirror the "Green Report" and "Green Report II" developed last year by 11 state attorneys general. In those documents, the attorneys general from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin suggested more than 20 detailed guidelines to ensure responsible environmental advertising in their states.

Among the topics covered in the Green reports and expected to be incorporated into federal recommendations are proposals to limit the use of terms such as "safe for the environment," and "recycled." Recycled-content claims, the attorneys general say, should be specific and separate percentages should be disclosed for post-consumer and pre-consumer materials. To avoid the potential for deception, the reports recommend that only post-consumer materials be referred to as recycled materials. Recaptured factory waste, such as in-plant scrap, should be described by another term such as "reprocessed or recovered industrial material," the reports suggest.

The attorneys general suggest that products not be nationally advertised as recyclable unless a significant amount of the product is being recycled everywhere it is sold. If consumers have little or no opportunity to recycle a product, recyclability claims should be avoided.


Meanwhile, New York State is taking action on its own. On June 14, a new state law establishes standards that must be met if a marketer wants to use the state's triangular chasing-arrows recycling symbol or the terms "recycled," "recyclable," or "reusable." Under these new rules, anyone seeking to use the terms or the triangle of arrows must obtain prior authorization from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The regulation forbids sale of packages or products that use these emblems without authorization. The SPI resin identification code is exempt.

The New York regulation also sets minimum recycled-content standards in order to qualify for use of the state's "Recycled" emblem (defined to include both the arrows image and the words "recycled"). At least 30% by weight of plastic packaging and 50% of other plastic products must be "secondary material" originally destined for the waste stream--i.e., not manufacturing scrap that would normally be reused. What's more, of that 30% or 50% "secondary material" content, 15% must be "post-consumer" material--defined as "products, packages or materials generated by a business or consumer which have served their intended end uses, and have been separated or diverted from the waste stream for purpose of collection"--if the plastic package or other product is to be authorized to carry the State's "Recycled" emblem.
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Author:Monks, Richard
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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