“Green” Claim Check

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Maybe you’re picking up paper plates for a party, or ready to bag some leaves in your yard. If a package says a product is biodegradable, compostable or recyclable you might opt to make the “greener” choice, right? That’s why it’s important those environmental labels tell the real story.

The Federal Trade Commission sets the standards for truth in advertising, including “green” advertising, and today it announced six actions enforcing those standards. The FTC’s message? Companies must have solid evidence to support the claims they make about their products.

If you want to buy a product labeled biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable, here’s what those terms mean when it comes to advertising:

Biodegradable

To claim a product is “biodegradable,” a company should have proof the product will completely break down and return to nature within a year. Landfills shut out sunlight, air, and moisture, so even paper and food could take decades to decompose. Most plastics won’t biodegrade even outside of a landfill.

Compostable

If a product is labeled “compostable," all the materials in it should safely turn into usable compost in a home compost pile. If the product can be composted only at certain places, like a commercial facility, the advertising should say so.

Recyclable

A product can be labeled “recyclable” only if the entire item can be recycled. Even if a product is recyclable, you’ll need to check with your local government to see if your community recycles it, and how.

For more, read Shopping Green at ftc.gov/green.

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