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A Voice for our Ocean

Ahead of First-in-a-Decade Update to FTC Green Guides, Ocean Conservancy Pushes for Stricter Regulation of Plastics and Chemical Recycling Marketing Claims

“Consumers should not need a PhD in plastics to understand what to do with their plastic packaging”

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Washington, D.C. – Ocean Conservancy has called for stricter regulation of marketers’ claims about plastics recyclability, recycled content, compostability and other related issues in the forthcoming revision of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Green Guides. Public comment for the Green Guides closed on April 24, just following Earth Day.

The Green Guides, meant “to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive,” have not been updated in more than 10 years. Since then, public interest in the plastic pollution crisis has skyrocketed, leaving many plastics producers scrambling to assuage consumers with often false or misleading marketing. Meanwhile, scientists estimate that 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean each year, and without bold action, that number is expected to nearly triple to 29 million metric tons by 2040.

“We need a holistic approach to the plastic pollution crisis,” said Nicholas Mallos, Vice President of Ocean Conservancy’s plastics program, “and to make the math work – to reach net zero plastics polluting our ocean – we need to do it all: make fewer plastics, recycle more as well as more effectively, and clean up what does end up in the environment. But that middle piece – plastics recycling – will only work if plastics industry and consumer goods companies are honest about what is and is not recyclable and what is and is not recycling.”

Unfortunately, plastics recycling rates remain dismal in the United States and around the world, thanks in part to widespread mis- and disinformation on the issue. A 2021 Ocean Conservancy survey of Americans’ food delivery and takeout habits found that 60% of Americans make incorrect assumptions about the recyclability of plastic delivery food containers, for example.

“Consumers should not need a PhD in plastics to understand what to do with their plastic packaging,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, Ocean Conservancy’s associate director of U.S. plastics policy and an environmental engineer who has co-authored several landmark plastics bills in recent years. “And right now, that’s where we are, thanks to deceptive marketing tactics by companies that make plastic products and packaging. Updating the Green Guides is an important opportunity for the federal government to help set the record straight.”

Highlights of Ocean Conservancy’s recommendations include:

  • Urging the FTC to initiate a rulemaking proceeding under the FTC Act to strengthen enforcement against deceptive or unfair environmental claims on recyclability, compostability, and recycled content.
  • Prohibiting the use of chasing arrow symbols or any recyclability claims associated with the 10 products identified in the U.S. Plastic Pact’s list of problematic items to be eliminated, which includes expanded polystyrene (plastic foam), PFAS and other petrochemicals polluting beaches and waterways worldwide.
  • Limiting recyclability claims, as well as use of the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol, to products and packaging that are designed to be recyclable and that can be collected through curbside recycling programs, among other specific requirements as identified under California law SB 343.
  • Prohibiting any labeling claims indicating a product or packaging is oxo-degradable, oxo-biodegradable, photodegradable, marine biodegradable, or ocean safe.
  • Revising the guidance on “compostable” claims to ensure that only products sold in areas where a well-defined “substantial majority” of customers have access to composting can be labeled as such.
  • Prohibiting the use of chemical recycling technologies from counting as recycled content for labeling.

“The Green Guides are especially important now more than ever as the very idea of recycling is under attack by petrochemical companies who are trying to get harmful chemical conversion technologies like pyrolysis and gasification to count as recycling,” said Dr. Brandon. “We need to be clear with American consumers: these types of technology are not recycling and have no place in the Green Guides.”

Ocean Conservancy’s submission can be found here.


About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

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