In 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed recommendations for environmental marketing claims. The agency has sent warning letters to 15 marketers informing them that their claims may be deceptive, and requested more scientific evidence that plastic bags labeled as biodegradable, or “oxodegradable”, implying the bag will break down in time when exposed to oxygen, were true to the claim. Because many bags are dumped in the low-oxygen environment of a landfill, the FTC considers those advertised benefits as dubious.
Joseph Greene, a professor at California State University, Chico, points out that oxodegradable should be amended to “oxofragmentable” to be more accurate, because the plastics just break into smaller and smaller pieces. Chemically, they don’t break down into anything less hazardous. In fact, if these plastic bags disintegrate in the ocean, the fragments will be about the right size for sea creatures to mistake them for plankton.