Plastic Newspaper Bag's Green Claims Challenged

Plastic Newspaper Bag's Green Claims Challenged

Most of the environmental claims made by GP Plastics about its PolyGreen plastic newspaper bags cannot be fully substantiated or could be confusing to consumers, according to the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

GP Plastics came under scrutiny after a competitor, Continental Products, challenged a variety of claims like PolyGreen bags are "100% oxo-biodegradable," are "disposable through ordinary channels," are "environmentally-friendly" and are "completely recyclable." Continental has its own line of recycled-content and recyclable newspaper bags.

GP Plastics says it makes more than half of the 6-7 billion bags a year used by U.S. newspapers. Earlier this year it introduced its oxo-biodegradable PolyGreen bags, used first by the Dallas Morning News. The New York Times was planning to switch to the bags, but has decided to wait for further research on the bags due to the spat over its environmental claims.

Oxo-biodegradation is the process of a plastic breaking down when exposed to heat and oxygen, eventually leaving carbon dioxide, water and biomass when further broken down by natural microorganisms. An additive is infused in plastics to make them oxo-biodegradable, and in an interview earlier this year, GP Plastics' CFO Mike Skinner said that the bags could degrade in two or three years in landfills, depending on conditions.

NAD is recommending that the company change or eliminate most of its claims about the bags due to a lack of scientific evidence that the bags break down quickly or completely when thrown away in landfills or that they are compatible with typical recycling streams. The company is also being told it should stop calling the bags "eco-friendly" and use phrases like "saving the planet" since they overstate the impact of the bags.

NAD was also concerned that consumers are not aware of what oxo-biodegradable means, writing in an announcement that "NAD observed there was no evidence in the record that consumers understood 'oxo-biodegradable' to have different meaning, or a different impact on the environment, than products that are 'biodegradable.'" GP Plastics plans to appeal the decision.