BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Finds Landfill Waste Disposal A Key Issue In Review of Advertising Claims Related To Biodegradability

New York, New York – Nov. 8,   2011 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Ecologic LLC modify certain claims for the company’s for Eco-One additive, a product designed to improve the degradability of plastic goods. NAD determined that certain claims were supported by the advertiser’s evidence.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, monitors advertising in all media. Pursuant to its monitoring program, NAD requested that the advertiser provide substantiation for the following claims:

  • “Eco-One is 100% organic and non-starch based.”
  • “proven methane off-gassing, which allows it to be re-captured for energy.”
  • “Over 90% of plastics end up in landfills”
  • “Eco-One is accepted by major national brands”
  • “Products made with Eco-One are scientifically proven and have been analyzed by independent tests, each one validating Eco-One claims.

In this case, NAD reviewed the technical evidence relied upon by the advertiser and examined whether that evidence – which indicated biodegradation under certain controlled conditions – was meaningful, given that plastics products are typically disposed of in landfills that do not meet such controlled conditions. NAD also examined a the results of a research study on consumer perceptions on biodegradability.

Plastic products have traditionally been recognized as resistant to degradation. This resistance accounts for the durability and widespread use of plastics. The disposal of plastics, however, has raised concerns about solid waste, particularly in light of heightened public consciousness about environmental issues. Consequently, biodegradability claims are scrutinized carefully.

As a preliminary matter, NAD noted that the advertiser voluntarily discontinued the claim that Eco-One “renders plastic products biodegradable,” which NAD determined was necessary and appropriate. NAD noted that the evidence in the record would not have supported an unqualified “biodegradable” claim.

NAD next looked to Ecologic’s revised claim – “Eco-One enhances the biodegradability of plastic products in biologically active landfills.”

The advertiser’s testing was based on the ASTM D5511-02 test method, a measure of “anaerobic biodegradation of plastic materials under high-solids anaerobic-digestion conditions.” While satisfied that the advertiser’s testing was conducted using proper D5511 methodology, NAD remained concerned about the relevance of this methodology to typical landfill environments.

In previous reviews of “biodegradable” advertising claims, NAD has determined — as recently as December of 2010 — that this methodology “was meant to simulate conditions in anaerobic digesters in very specific conditions, not landfill conditions.”  Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission has noted that “ASTM D5511 … mimics a rare disposal environment – a highly controlled anaerobic digester, such as may be found on farms or in sewage treatment systems – with consistent moisture, heat, and exposure to degradation catalysts.” 

NAD further determined that survey evidence on consumer perceptions of “biodegradable” claims – without testing that measures biodegradability in a representative landfill environment – is not sufficient to serve as claim support.

At the same time, NAD recognized the advertiser’s exhaustive product testing and acknowledged that ASTM does not offer a more landfill-relevant alternative for testing biodegradability of plastic products. NAD noted that a “showing that Eco-One enhances biodegradability under D5511 conditions bodes well for the product’s efficacy in landfills and determined that the advertiser was entitled to inform consumers of Eco-One’s performance in this testing.

NAD recommended that Ecologic modify its advertising to make clear that any claim of “enhanced biodegradation” is qualified by denoting that the claim is basake clear that any claim to ed on the results of tests that utilized optimized, high-solids anaerobic-digestion conditions which are not present in the vast majority of landfills in the United States today.

NAD was satisfied that the evidence in the record supported claims that the product “had proven methane off-gassing, which allows it to be re-captured for energy,” is “100% organic and non-starch based,” and is “accepted by major national brands.”

Finally, NAD examined the claim “[p]roducts made with Eco-One are scientifically proven and have been analyzed by independent tests, each one validating Eco-One claims.”

The claim appeared as a bullet point on the Ecologic webpage that listed product benefits.

NAD found that the claim was substantiated, provided Ecologic complied with NAD’s other determinations.

Eco-Logic, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while it disagreed with certain of NAD’s findings, it would take NAD’s recommendations into account in future advertising.