Recyclability claims around plastic packaging could soon face much more scrutiny, with the Federal Trade Commission voting Dec. 14 to start long-awaited revisions to its Green Guides, the government's environmental marketing rules.
FTC commissioners voted 4-0 at an open meeting to launch the first update of those rules in a decade, a decision that was praised by both plastics industry and environmental groups, although they may have very different visions of what the agency should do.
The guides cover topics much broader than plastics, overseeing marketing claims in areas like carbon footprints and organics.
But FTC Chair Lina Khan did highlight one plastics recycling topic in a written statement, suggesting that will be one focus of its work.
"Recent reports suggest that many plastics that consumers believe they're recycling actually end up in landfills," Khan said. "One question, then, is whether claims that a product is recyclable should reflect where a product ultimately ends up, not just whether it gets picked up from the curb."
An FTC news release said it was interested in public comment on how the terms "recyclable" and "recycled content" should be used in marketing, including how consumers understand terms like "pre-consumer" and "post-industrial" recycled content and what other methods could be used to substantiate recycled content claims.
Khan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, said consumers are confused by marketing greenwashing claims.
"Many Americans want to know about the environmental impact of the products they are looking to buy, and businesses as a result are routinely making claims about the sustainability and carbon footprint of their products and manufacturing," she said. "But for the average consumer, it's really impossible to verify these claims and so it's critical that businesses are making truthful claims and representations."
The American Chemistry Council said it supports the FTC review.
Prapti Muhuri, associate director of plastics sustainability at ACC, said during the online hearing the new guides should recognize chemical recycling technology and mass balance claims, since they will be important to meeting ACC's proposal to Congress for 30 percent recycled content in plastic products by 2030.
"In order for these ambitious targets to be met, we need to accelerate the growth and innovation and technologies, like advanced or chemical recycling," she said. "These must be supported by credible tracking mechanisms such as mass balance chain of custody that inspires consumer trust."
ACC also urged the FTC to keep its current Green Guides threshold that products need to be recycled in 60 percent of communities to be claimed as recyclable.