Bioplastic Enforcement Campaign
What are Bioplastics?
The term bioplastics refers to a range of plastics that are either derived from a "renewable” resource (such as types of starches), are biodegradable, or both. These two main traits that distinguish bioplastics from most other plastics are referred to as "bio-based" and "biodegradable."
As bioplastic products proliferate, so do the marketing claims used to sell them. While some of these claims comply with California law and other accepted standards, many do not. Of particular concern is the use of the terms like “biodegradable," "degradable," or other like terms in product marketing. These claims are inherently misleading, and have been illegally used on many types of bioplastic products in California.
Watch the video below to find out the difference between biodegradable and compostable packaging claims.
Harmful Effects of Mislabeling of Bioplastics
1. Encourages littering: Using the term "biodegradable" on consumer products reduces barriers to littering by communicating to the consumer that the product is less harmful if littered. Consumers believe that if a product is labeled biodegradable it will quickly biodegrade, harmlessly in the environment. This is simply not true. This messaging is counterproductive to all the work California has done to reduce littering.
2. More expensive, less eco-friendly: Most of these products are more expensive than conventional petroleum-based plastics. However, if consumers knew the disconnect that often exists between their expectations and what the product actually delivers, many would not see the price difference worth it.
3. Contaminating the recycling stream: Most bioplastics cannot be recycled (with PET), and processes to sort out these products are timely and expensive since bioplastics cannot be readily distinguished from PET plastics.
4. Contaminating commercial composters: Each commercial composter has its own specifications about how long a product must take to compost. If bioplastic products are not meeting set standards, yet are being sent to composting centers by consumers, these products could contaminate the composting process.
5. Unfair business competition: Some companies are following the laws which regulate the use of “green marketing” terms, while others blatantly violate them, creating unfair market competition.
Types of Bioplastics
Biobased: The carbon in these bioplastics is from plant based (i.e. renewable) sources, most commonly: starch, sugar, and vegetable oils (as opposed to petroleum). Not all biobased plastics are compostable or biodegradable (click here for common definitions of these terms).
Biodegradable/Compostable: Compostable or biodegradable plastics may be biobased, but also can be made from petroleum sources. Biodegradable plastics contain organic material (fossil-based or renewable) that will break down in the presence of naturally occurring microorganisms over a "reasonable" period of time. There is no universally accepted standard for this term, unlike "compostable" which refers to plastics which will biodegrade in a commercial/municipal compost facility within 180 days. Petroleum based products have also been considered bioplastics when they use “biobased additives” (which companies claim enable their products to biodegrade or compost). However, none of these additive products have met the recognized standards (see below).
There are well-established scientific methodologies to measure how much of a product is bio-based, as well as the rate and extent of biodegradation it will undergo in different environments (i.e., composting facility, ocean, anaerobic digestion facility, etc.). However, there is no uniformly accepted regime of metrics or "pass/fail" standards for the use of these terms as advertising claims in the marketplace. In many cases there is evidence that consumers' understanding of these terms differs from that of the plastic manufacturer’s. ASTM International is an international, consensus-based group of experts that develops widely used, reliable standards.
ASTM D6400: Measures whether a plastic can be labeled as “compostable.”
ASTM D7081: Measures whether a plastic can be labeled as “marine degradable.”
ASTM D6868: Measures whether a product’s “plastic coatings/linings” can be labeled as biodegradable or compostable.
What CAW is Doing
CAW is working with the FTC, California Attorney General's Office, District Attorneys and local government Attorneys, and has recently launched a Bioplastics Enforcement Campaign against violators of the CA Public Resources Code and FTC Green Guides (see our main Enforcement Campaign page for a description of these laws).
Examples of False Claims:
What You Can Do
If you think you have purchased or seen a product with false claims and in violation of environmental law as listed above, please let us know! If you can, take down the name of the product, the company, the specific claim (biodegradable, degradable, decomposable, etc.), and any relevant ASTM or other certifications.