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Attempting to cut through our ‘green’ terminology

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POSTED: January 14, 2013 10:00 a.m.

Do you ever get confused by all these “green” terms?

What do they mean: eco-friendly, recycled, recyclable, compostable, environmentally safe, non-toxic, ozone-friendly and, of course, green? Are they true? What make an item “recyclable” as opposed to “recycled?” They make me really confused, so I thought that you might be, too.

Since it has become fashionable to be environmentally conscious now, the marketplace has stepped up to meet demand by competing for your attention with labels and badges claiming to be “eco-friendly,” “recyclable” and/or “green.” But a new and improved product with “50 percent more recycled content” may not be what it claims to be if only 3 percent of its total makeup comes from recycled content. And what actually is “recyclable” if a claim doesn’t indicate whether it is referring to the product or the packaging containing it?

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for ensuring these types of environmental claims are qualified and, in 1992, issued the first “Green Guides” to help marketers avoid making misleading environmental claims. The new updates issued in October 2012 take into account more than 5,000 total comments received since the FTC proposed revised guides in the fall of 2010, reflecting a wide range of public input. The guides includes:

• general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims;

• how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims, and how marketers can substantiate these claims; and

• how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers.

If you are as curious about the validity of some of these terms and claims as I am, I recommend reading the marketing guidelines outlined in the 2012 Federal Trade Commission “Green Guides” (or at least, the summary of the guide — it is, after all, “government-speak” and not always entertaining). Here are some highlights of green-terminology definitions included in the 2012 edition:

1. General environmental benefit claims: General environmental benefit claims should not be made about a product if any part of the product is harmful to the environment.

2. Certifications and seals of approvals: Use of a third-party environmental certification or seal of approval still may require marketers to clarify specific environmental benefit claims conveyed by environmental certifications.

3. “Free-of” claims: Only products that contain zero to an unintentionally-added trace amount of a substance should be marketed as “free-of” as long as the trace amount isn’t harmful to consumers.

4. “Compostable” claims: Compostable claims should be backed up with reliable scientific evidence stating that the product will break down; how long the degrading process will take; what it will break down into and what portion of this final product is usable or safe.

5. “Non-toxic” claims: A non-toxic claim is accurate only if there is reliable scientific evidence that a product, package or service is safe for both humans and the environment.

6. “Ozone-safe” and “ozone-friendly” claims: If any amount of a product, no matter how small, is harmful to the ozone layer, “Ozone-Safe” and “Ozone-Friendly” claims are deceptive.

7. “Recyclable” claims: A product or package is “recyclable” if it can be collected and/or separated from waste by established recycling practices currently in use for the purpose of manufacturing or creating another product.

8. “Made of recycled content” claims: A product is “made of recycled content” only if it made of recycled raw materials, used (but unchanged) components and/or reconditioned and remanufactured parts.

9. “Refillable” claims: An item is refillable if the consumer is provided with the means to actually refill the product, such as a company that sells a large-size bottle of hand soap alongside a refillable hand-soap dispenser.

10. “Renewable energy” claims: A claim for “renewable energy” can be used if 100 percent, or nearly 100 percent, of the energy used to create a product is renewable.

11. “Renewable materials” claims: A non-deceptive renewable materials claim details which portion(s) or amounts of a product are made with renewable materials.

12. “Source reduction” claims: A product that is marketed as being reduced in weight, volume or toxicity should provide the exact comparative data between it and a previous version of the product or its competitors’ products.

For other examples and to learn more about these and all of the current environmental marketing guidelines download the full guide at www.ftc.gov.

Upcoming Keep Liberty Beautiful events

Jan. 15-Feb. 15 —Phonebook recycling We will have collection boxes around the county for recycling phonebooks and large catalogs as well as drop-offs at local recycling centers in the newspaper bins. For more information, call 880-4888 or email klcb@coastalnow.net.

Feb. 16 — Recycle It! Fair for electronics and household hazardous-waste items and selected household goods. Call 880-4888 or email klcb@coastalnow.net for more information.

 

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