(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 product's or package's ability to degrade in the environment where it is customarily disposed; and
(2) The rate and extent of degradation.
Example 1: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.
Example 2:A marketer advertises a commercial agricultural plastic mulch film with the claim “Photodegradable,” and clearly and prominently qualifies the term with the phrase “Will break down into small pieces if left uncovered in sunlight.” The advertiser possesses competent and reliable scientific evidence that within one year, the product will break down, after being exposed to sunlight, into sufficiently small pieces to become part of the soil. Thus, the qualified claim is not deceptive. Because the claim is qualified to indicate the limited extent of breakdown, the advertiser need not meet the consumer expectations for an unqualified photodegradable claim, i.e., that the product will not only break down, but also will decompose into elements found in nature.
Example 3:A marketer advertises its shampoo as “biodegradable” without qualification. The advertisement makes clear that only the shampoo, and not the bottle, is biodegradable. The marketer has competent and reliable scientific evidence demonstrating that the shampoo, which is customarily disposed in sewage systems, will break down and decompose into elements found in nature in a reasonably short period of time in the sewage system environment. Therefore, the claim is not deceptive.
Example 4:A plastic six-pack ring carrier is marked with a small diamond. Several state laws require that the carriers be marked with this symbol to indicate that they meet certain degradability standards if the carriers are littered. The use of the diamond by itself, in an inconspicuous location, does not constitute a degradable claim. Consumers are unlikely to interpret an inconspicuous diamond symbol, without more, as an unqualified photodegradable claim.
46 The Guides' treatment of unqualified degradable claims is intended to help prevent deception and is not intended to establish performance standards to ensure the degradability of products when littered.
Example 5:A fiber pot containing a plant is labeled “biodegradable.” The pot is customarily buried in the soil along with the plant. Once buried, the pot fully decomposes during the growing season, allowing the roots of the plant to grow into the surrounding soil. The unqualified claim is not deceptive.