FTC Claims Fruits and Vegetables Are Not Biodegradable

by Doug Bancorn on August 24, 2009 · 5 comments

in Biodegradation,FTC Allegations

A follow-up to our “FTC Bamboozles The Public on Bamboo Fabric” post.

Iceberg lettuceLet’s take a closer look at this not so black and white question. Let’s begin with Webster’s definition of biodegradable—“Capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things (as microorganisms).”

Suffice it to say…we are dealing with the FTC here, so for the purposes of this discussion we are going to throw Webster’s definition out the window.

In looking at the FTC’s definition it becomes readily evident that they have placed much emphasis on the “materials breaking down in a reasonably short period of time after *customary disposal*”.

The operative phrase being “customary disposal”. The FTC states that *viscose/rayon from bamboo* does not meet the criteria for a biodegradable product whether it’s bamboo clothing or bamboo sheets. The FTC goes on to use such inflammatory terms as “false” and “deceptively” when describing the companies labeling and/or product descriptions.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that today’s modern landfills are designed (by law) to keep out air, moisture, and sunlight. This is done intentionally…as it prevents pollutants from getting into our air and drinking water. This does not bode well for decomposition rates.

LandfillEnter one Dr. William Rathje…author of the book “Rubbish”, an Archeologist, and Harvard Ph.D.
Dr. Rathje began a garbage project while teaching at the University of Arizona. His ambitious project included the excavation of 15 landfills across North America. To quote from Dr. Rathje’s book…”They are not vast composters: rather they are vast mummifiers.”

According to the QLPA (Queensland Litter Prevention Alliance), the decomposition time for a banana skin is 3 to 4 weeks. The decomposition time for a paper bag is 1 month. Is a banana peel biodegradable? Is a piece of paper or a head of lettuce biodegradable?

This is where it gets interesting—I submit too you that nothing is biodegradable! That’s right, I said it. What the hell am I talking about you ask? Well, remember that according to the FTC…the material must break down in a reasonably short period of time, after customary disposal (meaning the landfill).

Oh, sorry, the missing part of the equation—Dr. Rathje discovered that our landfills (mummifiers) just didn’t allow for the decomposition of much of anything. He found 40 year old newspapers that were still legible. He found a head of lettuce that was 5 years old amongst numerous other “biodegradable” items!

For the love of God…don’t nutritionist’s tell us that lettuce is mostly water?
Dare I say that according to the FTC—water is not biodegradable? No, I won’t go there.

The point here is that the FTC seems to be using our landfill decomposition rates as the main qualifier for whether or not *viscose/rayon from bamboo* is biodegradable or not.

Additionally, the FTC has designated that companies advertising bamboo products as biodegradable, as criminals that are intentionally misleading the public. I say…anyone with an I.Q. in excess of two digits, should be asking themselves…”what are the FTC’s motivations here?”

The last nail…………………

It appears that there was another incident in which the FTC went after Kmart’s American Fare paper plates, Bath brand moist wipes, and Dyna E International’s Lightload brand compressed dry towels. It was in relation to the biodegradable claims. The latter believing in their product, decided to fight the FTC’s allegations.

The final judgement still awaits, but the company has posted Lab Test Results as a pdf download. Here are some quotes from the report that was performed by an independent company that does biogeochemistry research and analysis:

“The material was found to be ultimately biodegradable, and was mineralized to an even greater extent than the cellulose reference material. The result is not surprising, since rayon is merely a modified cellulose, and there is extensive documentation in the published scientific literature demonstrating that rayon materials are biodegradable under most conditions.”

That last bit is particularly interesting, since the FTC insists that bamboo derived fibers must be represented as “rayon” and/or “viscose”.

So, we have what the FTC deems a rayon product, that is not biodegradable, yet there is extensive published scientific data that supports the fact that rayon is a biodegradable material.

Again, this is but one more illustration of the FTC’s ineptness and/or unwillingness to even look at these types of cases with a hint of objectivity…unless of course there is an ulterior motive at play. In either case, it’s a sad state of affairs when a government agency that is supposed to be looking out for consumers and small businesses alike, performs its duties like that of a local government in some 3rd world country- dictatorship.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Greg Stevens August 26, 2009 at 7:19 am

I will start out by saying that it’s difficult to take an objection of non-objectivity seriously when you are posting on a website called “green earth bamboo”. I mean…. I’m just sayin’. While you’re throwing out terms like “agenda” and “ulterior motive,” you may as well lay your own cards on the table, as well.

Secondly, this kind of question is why we have published standards, isn’t it? If your material passes ASTM D6400 or EN 13432, then you can call it biodegradable…. and you can defend it as such in a court of law, regardless of what the FTC alleges. And if your material CANNOT pass either of those test…. then shut up. A lot of grand-standing about the piece of lettuce you found in a landfill isn’t relevant when we have actual controlled tests that can be used to determine biodegradability.

2 Doug August 29, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Greg,
Your 6400 is for plastics…and the other one is a European standard.
The sad thing is that even a plastic item having passed the D6400….would not meet the FTC’s current criteria for biodegradable. It also wouldn’t meet with what the average American believes is a reasonable time for decomposition, if it were disposed of in a landfill, that is.
That is the point. Under the FTC’s current definition…companies will have no motivation to spend the extra money in research, development and implementation, when the FTC makes impossible for them to make any claims about their newly improved product….that decomposes in a fraction of the time, as the old version…as an example.
Say what you will, but the “head of lettuce” IS a very significant point…whether were talking about bamboo or any other product that has accelerated decomposition rates.

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