Schwarzenegger Throws Out Ban on "Biodegradable" Claims, Makes FTC's Green Guides the Rule for Compostable Plastic Bags

As we previously reported, on August 25, the California legislature passed S.B. 1454, a bill that would have prohibited labeling any plastic product sold in California as "biodegradable," "degradable," or "decomposable," based on the theory that such claims were inherently misleading to consumers in the absence of clear scientific standards supporting these claims. On September 28, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. In the veto statement, the Governor cited his concern "about the much more expansive universe of plastic products that this bill would regulate and the unforeseen consequences that could result from such a vast expansion." Instead, the Governor said, he signed S.B. 228, pertaining to compostable plastic bags, which "represents a reasonable next step in providing information to the consumer and recyclers about the differences in biodegradable products." The new law enacted by S.B. 228 aligns California law with the FTC's Green Guides. Specifically, starting July 1, 2011, manufacturers of compostable plastic bags meeting specific ASTM standards will be required to ensure these bags are "readily and easily identifiable" from other plastic bags, "in a manner that is consistent with the [Green Guides]." Under the statute, "readily and easily identifiable" means: (1) labeled with a certification logo indicating the bag meets the ASTM standard; and (2) the bag is green and labeled with the word "compostable" in one-inch letters. A compostable bag may not display a recycling symbol, such as a chasing arrow resin identification code. The statute expressly provides that "[a] manufacturer is required to comply with this section only to the extent that the labeling requirements … do not conflict with the Federal Trade Commission Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims." Thus, Governor Schwarzenegger stopped California from regulating biodegradable claims more strictly than the rest of the country, preserving the possibility of uniform nationwide environmental marketing standards, at least for now. – Suzanne Wilson and Elizabeth Frank

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