BBB National Programs Archive

 

NAD Reviews Masternet’s Environmental Claims Following Challenge by Conwed Plastics

New York, New York – Oct. 21, 2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that MasterNet Ltd. discontinue certain environmental claims for its plastic netting packing products. NAD found, however, that the company could support a “more environmentally friendly” claim in a limited context.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined claims made by MasterNet following a challenge by Conwed Plastics LLC, a competing producer, distributor and marketer of plastic netting packaging products. 

Claims at issue included: 

            Biodegradable Claims:

  • “MasterNet’s ‘Wattle Netting’ is biodegradable”
  • “Newly redesigned biodegradable Bottle Sleeves”
  • “In fact, we’ve made a commitment to produce a minimum of 10% of our products using biodegradable materials”

          General Environmental Claims:

 

  • “More environmentally friendly”
  • “Our innovative bottle sleeves have … saved countless trees from destruction”
  • “With our newly redesigned biodegradable Bottle Sleeves and another one of our product sectors committed to the cause, we are determined to achieve – and hopefully surpass – our goals of environmental responsibility, and we look forward to helping you achieve yours.” 

          Recyclable Claims:         

  • “Bottle Sleeves are manufactured using reprocessed plastic and can be recycled in the blue box, where facilities exist.”

NAD noted in its decision that it has observed the recent increase environmental advertising claims in the market place, including those related to biodegradation or degradation of plastic products and packaging.   In response to the demand for “greener” products, manufacturers of products traditionally perceived as being bad for the environment have made efforts to redesign products to make them environmentally friendly.

NAD further noted that because customers (both consumers and business) cannot easily verify for themselves whether environmental claims are truthful or meaningful, purchasers often rely on advertising to determine any environmental benefits of a product through various stages of the supply chain.   As a result, advertising self-regulation plays an important role in maintaining the truth and accuracy of environmental claims.

According to the advertiser, its plastic packaging products are manufactured with a proprietary pellet, which provides the plastic products with their biodegradable properties.  It also maintained that its manufacturing process has been innovated so that both the product and manufacturing process are more environmentally friendly.

First, NAD addressed the issue of whether the advertiser provided adequate substantiation to support its biodegradability claims.  In support of its claims, the advertiser submitted a “Certificate of the Biodegradability of Plastic Products Made by MasterNet Ltd.” and an Ecological Assessment for a component of MasterNet’s plastic products. 

NAD, upon review of the evidence, found it to be insufficient to adequately support the biodegradable claims for the advertiser’s plastic products.  NAD found that the Certificate and the testing upon which it appears to be based do not support a finding that the plastics meet the standard for biodegradable as set forth by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Green Guides or what a reasonable consumer would expect regarding the degradation of the product. 

NAD noted that the test methods referred to in Certificate do not establish that the plastic products would biodegrade under actual consumer use.  Wattle Netting and plastic bottle sleeves, when customarily disposed of, will typically end up in a landfill, as with most plastic packaging products.   The testing conducted on the pellets, was designed to test under certain controlled conditions, not conditions that are typically found in a landfill.  NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its biodegradability claims.

Regarding MasterNet’s “more environmentally friendly” claim, NAD determined that the claim, as it appeared in the context of an online explanation of the company’s practices, did not suggest a comparison to other practices and the claim was adequately substantiated. 

NAD determined however, that the advertiser did not provide adequate substantiation for the claim “saved countless trees from destruction.” The advertiser submitted its sales data as support and argued that its sales of plastic products meant that it was replacing paper alternatives.  NAD found that a specific connection between an increase in the sale of plastic sleeves and saving “countless” trees was tenuous and insufficient to substantiate the claim.  NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim.

Finally, NAD noted that it appreciated the advertiser’s representation that it had permanently discontinued the recyclable claims at issue.

The company, in its advertiser’s statement, said that while it supports the advertising industry’s self-regulatory process, it disagrees with NAD’s decision. The company noted, however, that it would take NAD’s recommendations into account in future advertising.