Washington, DC - Staff of the Federal Trade Commission has sent letters warning 20 manufacturers and marketers of dog waste bags that their “biodegradable,” “compostable,” and other environmental claims may be deceptive.

The letters, which the staff sent after examining the companies’ environmental, or “green,” claims on their websites and in other media, provide examples of potentially deceptive statements regarding the bags’ biodegradability or compostability. The letters also provide information on how to comply with truth-in-advertising principles when making environmental claims.

“Consumers looking to buy environmentally friendly products should not have to guess whether the claims made are accurate,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is therefore critical for the FTC to ensure that these claims are not misleading, to protect both consumers and honest competitors.”

The staff notified 20 marketers that they may be deceiving consumers with the use of their unqualified “biodegradable” claim.  Based on the FTC’s  Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the Green Guides), such a claim without any qualification generally means to consumers that the product will completely break down into its natural components within one year after customary disposal.  Most waste bags, however, end up in landfills where no plastic biodegrades in anywhere close to one year, if it biodegrades at all.

According to the Green Guides, consumers generally think that unqualified “compostable claims” mean that a product will safely break down at the same rate as natural products, like leaves and grass clippings, in their home compost pile. If marketers disclose that a product will only compost in commercial or municipal facilities, consumers think that those facilities are generally available in their area. However, dog waste is generally not safe to compost at home, and very few facilities accept this waste. Therefore, compostable claims for these products are generally untrue.

The FTC advised the companies that they should review their marketing materials and contact agency staff to tell them how they intend to revise or remove the claims, or explain why they won’t.

The staff notes that marketers who did not receive a letter should not assume that their claims are fine. Staff is not disclosing the recipients of the letters at this time.