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Environmental mislabeling charges intensify.

Debates over environmental labeling continue to heat up (see PT, April '91, p. 136), fueled by lack of commonly accepted standards and definitions. With mislabeling charges being filed against more ane more companies, it's looking increasingly risky for plastics product manufacturers to make claims about recyclability or degradability. It also looks like the controversy may be resolved in Washington, D.C., where a number of bills have been introduced recently to establish federal labeling standards.

SOME OF THE ACCUSED

Just how risky the current state of affairs has become is apparent in New York State, where the Consumer Affairs Dept. recently filed mislabeling charges against six companies: Procter & Gamble (P&G), Webster Industries, Inc., RKO Warner Video, Daffy's, Key Food, and Icelandic Marketing USA. Here are some specifics from Commissioner Mark Green.

The complaint against Cincinnati-based P&G is based on a print advertisement picturing a handful of soil enhancer with the copy: "Ninety days ago this was a disposable diaper." The ads did not state that consumers cannot compost used diapers unless they have access to special municipal composting facilities, and there are no composting plants in New York State. P&G failed to return phone calls from PLASPEC asking for its side of the story.

Webster Industries, Peabody, Mass., was blasted for its "Good Sense" kitchen garbage bags, which are labeled "environmentally safe." According to the package, the bags "contain photodegradable additives" and "degrade into harmless organic powder" (see PT, May '90, p. 120). Webster sources told PLASPEC that as of July 1, 1990, those environmental claims were taken off the packaging, but they have no control over what is still on store shelves.

Icelandic Marketing, Little Silver, N.J., has been charged with selling a 6.8-oz aseptic "drink box" of water labeled as a "biodegradable package." A larger package of water carries the label "Drink boxes are harmless when incinerated." Department sources say an investigation revealed no degradable additives in the package.

RKO Warner Video, N.Y.C., is accused of distributing videos in plastic bags that state, "This bag is photodegradable."

Daffy's, headquartered in Secaucus, N.J., has two retail clothing stores in N.Y.C. The chain is accused of distributing clothing in plastic bags that say, "This Bag Is Recycled Plastic and Is Degradable."

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Key Food distributes bags with "Degrades In Sunlight" printed on them.

PROPOSED BILLS ABOUND

Environmental claims like those above and others like them have led to increased legislative activity. New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Minnesota Rep. Gerry Sikorski, Ohio Sen. John Glenn, and Illinois Rep. Terry Bruce have all introduced federal labeling bills.

Sen. Lautenberg's proposed legislation, the "Environmental Marketing Claims Act," would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish uniform, accurate standards and definitions for environmental marketing claims. It would set up an independent advisory board of environmentalists, consumers and industry representatives to advise the Environmental Protection Agency on these standards.

The bill is necessary because consumers are being misled and are confused about products that are supposedly environmentally safe, says Lautenberg. "Enactment of this bill would ensure that consumers can make decisions based on accurate information."

In a recent survey, 90% of American said they would look for environmentally preferable products and pay more for them, according to Sen. Lautenberg. Surveys also show that over 50% of American consumers would switch supermarkets to shop at one that offered environmentally sensitive products and practices, he said.

In another move, Sen. Glenn has introduced a bill--"Degradables Plastics Standards Act of 1991"--aimed at developing uniform standards and definitions for degradable plastic products. In 1989, he proposed a similar bill that was defeated.

In a statement made to President George Bush, Sen. Glenn said, "It is critical to establish standards to measure the impact and effectiveness of degradable products on the environment. In addition, the adoption of uniform standards and testing procedures will assist federal, state and local government officials in developing effective agricultural, environmental and economic policies."

Rep. Bruce's container-coding bill--"The Plastics Recycling Assistance Act"--supports use of the Society of the Plastics Industry's voluntary coding system on a national basis. This bill, however, has an added symbol for degradability, "DEG." Thus, the bill would integrate degradable plastics in the recycling stream.

GUIDELINES ON WASTE QUALITY

In a different but related effort to institute plastics waste standards, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) is developing quality guidelines for scrap plastics. ISRI is a trade association representing mainly processors who buy all types of scrap, including metal, paper and nonmetallics as well as plastics, says Bob Garino, ISRI director of commodities.

Although ISRI is using SPI's container-coding system as a guide, ISRI's specifications will be more detailed. Currently, 24 guidelines are being developed. For example, there are specifications for clear PET, green PET, and mixed green and clear PET, says Garino. Specs are also being developed for polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, PVC and mixed polyolefins.

About 1.3 billion lb of industrial plastic scrap is discarded each year, says ISRI. "We hope to have standards approved by our board of directors in July," sayd Garino. "After that, we hope to work on guidelines for engineering thermoplastics."
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Author:Block, Debbie Galante
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:869
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