FTC Guides

OVERVIEW: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers from deceptive marketing and advertising claims. The FTC 2012 Green Guides is a resource designed to help companies avoid making environmental marketing claims that are unfair, or deceptive, under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

DOG WASTE BAGS- Making Environmental Benefit Claims: Compostable, Oxo-Degradable, Degradable, Earth/Eco-Friendly and Recycled. 

METHOD OF DISPOSAL

99% of all municipal trash is either burned by incinerator or buried in a Subtitle D Landfill.

If a dog waste bag, made from a degradable material, is incinerated, regardless of what the bag is made from it will have no benefit over any other material. That's just common sense.

If a dog waste bag is made from an oxo-degradable material, because today's landfills are  constructed in such a way that they are sealed, not permitting moisture, oxygen, or sunlight, to enter, that without the presence of moisture, oxygen and sunlight, oxo-biodegrading cannot occur, or occur within the 1-year time frame required by the FTC Green Guides. So even though the bag material might degrade outside of the landfill once it's in a landfill it won't degrade per the FTC requirements. 

The FTC has determined that because of these customary trash disposal methods, regardless of what a dog waste bag is made of, it will have no environmental benefit once disposed of in a landfill or incinerated.

Section 260.8 of the Green Guides requires companies making degradable claims to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire item will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonable short period of time (1 year) after customary disposal” and that 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.” 

Regarding unqualified claims that a product uses recycled material and /or can be recycled, the marketer must provide scientific demonstration to support any such claims.  They must demonstrate that those recycled materials, if not used to make their dog waste bags, would have otherwise entered the waste stream. 

Regarding claims that a dog waste bag can be recycled, unless the company can demonstrate that once filled with dog waste that recyclers will remove the dog waste, then wash the bag and then recycle it, the claim is deceptive.

The FTC has ruled that no marketer of dog waste bags can successfully demonstrate that any pre-consumer recycled materials used in producing their bags would have otherwise ended up in the waste stream, as most bag manufacturers simply re-use factory scraps and those scraps would not have been discarded into the waste stream. Unless the marketer can demonstrate that the recycled plastic used in their bags would have been thrown away, and not used in some other products, such claims are deceptive. 

LITTERING/ILLEGAL DISPOSAL: The FTC’s Green Guides make it also clear that no environmental claims can be made based on illegal disposal acts, such as littering. In other words, if a dog waste bag degrades when illegally littered in the woods or along the roadside because the bag gets sufficient air, oxygen and moisture, but that same bag will not degrade within 1 year in a sealed landfill, no claims of degradability or composability can be made and any claims would be deceptive as it would require the user to commit an illegal act, such as littering, for the bag to degrade.

COMPOSTABILITY: The Green Guides recommend marketers clearly and prominently qualify compostable claims “if the item cannot be composted safely or in a timely manner in a home compost pile or device,” or if commercial facilities are “not available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities where the item is sold”.

Again, like degradable claims, once dog waste is put in a compostable bag it no longer becomes compostable because facilities do not exist generally to compost dog waste or separate the waste from the bag or dog waste from general trash. So compostable dog bags have no benefit from other bags. In fact, some argue that using biomaterials (corn etc.,) for bags uses more energy to make the bag than making it from oil.  Making bags from corn may also reduce the amount of food available or increase the cost of corn products to those that require them the most to survive.

California enacted legislation making it illegal to sell any plastic product labeled “compostable” unless it conforms to the ASTM D6400 standard. The standard also requires that the degradation of the material, or contents, not diminish the value or utility of the resulting compost.

However, “If the intended use of the compostable bag is dog waste AND facilities for composting dog waste are not available to a substantial majority of consumers where the item is sold or distributed”, then claims that a dog waste bag is compostable are "deceptive".

Even when green waste is fully processed into compost, the introduction of pet waste negatively impacts the organic certification of the compost. For this reason, most trash processing facilities do not accept animal waste.

Excerpts from the FTC  2012 Green Guides: 

§ 260.13 Recycled Content Claims. (a) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is made of recycled content. Recycled content includes recycled raw material, as well as used, reconditioned, and re-manufactured components. (b) It is deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that an item contains recycled content unless it is composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer), or after consumer use (post-consumer). If the source of recycled content includes pre-consumer material, the advertiser should have substantiation that the pre-consumer material would otherwise have entered the waste stream. Recycled content claims may – but do not have to – distinguish between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials. Where a marketer distinguishes between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials, it should have substantiation for any express or implied claim about the percentage of pre-consumer or post-consumer content in an item. 

Example: A manufacturer collects spilled raw material and scraps from the original manufacturing process. After a minimal amount of reprocessing, the manufacturer combines the spills and scraps with virgin material for use in production of the same product. A recycled content claim is deceptive since the spills and scraps are normally reused by industry within the original manufacturing process and would not normally have entered the waste stream. 

§ 260.12 Recyclable Claims. It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is recyclable. A product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item. 

Example: A trash bag is labeled “recyclable” without qualification. Because trash bags ordinarily are not separated from other trash at the landfill or incinerator for recycling, they are highly unlikely to be used again for any purpose. Even if the bag is technically capable of being recycled, the claim is deceptive since it asserts an environmental benefit where no meaningful benefit exists. 

§ 260.8 Degradable Claims. (a) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is degradable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, or photodegradable. The following guidance for degradable claims also applies to biodegradable, oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, and photodegradable claims. (b) A marketer making an unqualified degradable claim should have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire item will completely break down and return to nature (i.e., decompose into elements found in nature) within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. (c) 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. (d) Degradable claims should be qualified clearly and prominently to the extent necessary to avoid deception about: (1) the products or package’s ability to degrade in the environment where it is customarily disposed; and (2) the rate and extent of degradation. 

Example: A marketer advertises its trash bags using an unqualified “degradable” claim. The marketer relies on soil burial tests to show that the product will decompose in the presence of water and oxygen. Consumers, however, place trash bags into the solid waste stream, which customarily terminates in incineration facilities or landfills where they will not degrade within one year. The claim is, therefore, deceptive. 

For more information see:

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/02/ftc-staff-warns-marketers-sellers-dog-waste-bags-their