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FTV Charges Three Companies With Making False 'Biodegradable' Claims

The Federal Trade Commission Tuesday charged Kmart, Tender Corp. and Dyna-E International with making false and unsubstantiated "biodegradable" claims in marketing and labeling of various products.

Kmart and Tender have agreed to settle the complaints, while Dyna-E will litigate the charge.

News of the charges and settlements came in testimony before Congress in a hearing about deceptive environmental claims.

The FTC's Green Guides require that biodegradable claims, unless they are qualified, "are acceptable only if they have scientific evidence that their product will completely decompose within a reasonably short period of time under customary methods of disposal."

The FTC said that all the products at issue --paper plates, wipes and towels-- are typically disposed of in land fills, incinerators or recycling facilities, where it is "impossible" for them to biodegrade "within a reasonably short time."

Kmart and Tender have agreed not to make deceptive degradable claims and to have evidence to support any environmental claims. While the settlements involve allegations of violating the FCC's green guidelines, no green will change hands. Rather than fines, the companies have agreed to record-keeping and reporting provisions so that the FTC can monitor compliance.

In its testimony at the hearing, It's Too Easy Being Green: Deining Fair Green Marketing Principles, before the House Subcommiteee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, the FTC said it was reviewing its green guidelines to make sure they were keeping up with a "tsunami" of environmental marketing.

Noting that few commenters in requests for comment and workshops on green marketing have provided data on consumer perceptions of green marketing, the FTC said Tuesday it was launching its own study on consumer understanding of claims like "eco-friendly," "sustainable," and "carbon neutral," which it hopes to complete sometime this year.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.