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Environmental labeling heats up.

Environmental Labeling Heats Up

The need for definitions associated with "environmentally acceptable" packaging is real, but the race to standardize definitions is growing competitive. Federal agencies are being solicited for national standards; states are coming up with their own national solutions; and third-party organizations, like the Green Cross and Green Seal, are also getting involved in labeling standards, producing a danger of regulatory clutter and conflict.


A broad-based group of manufacturers and retailers has petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to adopt uniform national guidelines on use of environmental claims in advertising and marketing. The petition's leader and president of the National Food Processors Association, John R. Cady, says, "Consumers have a right to know how hard a company or industry is working to find solutions to environmental problems, and consumers need this information so they can be part of the solution." He said that no company will invest in environmental marketing if it must comply with 50 conflicting state standards. The petition asks the FTC to adopt a guide that would:

* Urge caution in use of the words "recycled" or "recyclable" by themselves.

* Encourage statements of the percentage of recycled material in a package or product.

* Suggest claims be clear as to which part of a package contains recycled material, except where average recycled content of a multi-component package is being stated.

* Encourage claims of recyclability or compostability in an appropriate context such as "recyclable where facilities exist."

* Suggest two types of source reduction claims: those which indicate recent reductions in material use as compared to the immediately preceding product or package, and those which compare a product or package to one or all competitors.

* Require a program for either the collection and reuse of packages by manufacturers, or their reuse by consumers to sustain a claim of refillability or reusability.

* Require a reasonable basis for generalized environmental claims.


Meanwhile, some states are developing their own labeling standards. For example, the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) has just adopted standards intended to serve as a uniform guide for packagers. The Council represents the state governments of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. It includes some stiff requirements:

* At point of purchase, the term "recyclable" may be used if an approved recycling program that includes that particular material is under way in the community.

* Otherwise, "recyclable" may be used either 1) if 75% of the state or its population has approved recycling programs for that material category; 2) if the material category has achieved a recycling rate above 50% in the state; or 3) if a particular brand has attained over 50% recycling rate in that state.

* The term "recycled content" has no minimum threshhold, but a package must identify pre- and post-consumer recycle content.

At least two more states, Wisconsin and Oregon, have pending bills that call for environmental labeling definitions. Under Wisconsin's bill, the state Dept. of Natural Resources would be authorized to enter into an interstate agreement on labeling to help consumers identify "environmentally preferred" products and packages. An environmental review panel would develop criteria for identifying such products. Each product would be assessed in terms of its effect on air, water and land pollution. And energy consumed during its production, transportation, use and disposal would be analyzed.

In Oregon, a comprehensive solid-waste management bill was introduced by Sen. Dick Springer. One of its provisions calls for the state Dept. of Commerce and Regulation to establish standards for advertising a product as being "recycled," "recyclable," or "degradable." The Department, according to CSWS, must consider any existing federal or industry consensus standards when developing the rules.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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