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Follow the Rules

What does ‘recycled’ mean to you? New guide requires precision


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Now that the Federal Trade Commission’s new Green Guides are in effect, restaurant industry and other franchisors can expect big changes in several elements of their business. 

For starters, marketers who pitch products as environmentally friendly have to back up their claims or face fines. If the FTC finds product marketing misleading, it will begin filing suits against the companies in question, just as it does for health claims made by food manufacturers. Precise verbiage in product descriptions will be important, but there are many other changes to come.

Changing designations

Product descriptions, certifications and seals of approval will be highly monitored and items that were once included in a supplier’s “green” or “environmentally friendly” product category will most likely change designations in the coming months. 

For example, traditional plastic foodservice products made from Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are often labeled as “made from recycled content.” But producing claims such as “green, made with recycled content” may be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled materials outweigh the environmental benefits of using the product. 

Similarly, Oxo Degradable plastics may also be affected by the FTC’s updates. These chemically enhanced materials are found in items like cutlery, containers and trash liners and are marketed as green. Under the new guidelines, marketers are required to prove their degradable claims. The guides state that entire products or packages declared as solid waste must break down and return to nature within one year.

Increase in innovation

The field of suppliers and companies that provide these coveted products and that award certifications is likely to change in size, but now there is a clearer vision of what is acceptable to meet these newly defined standards. As the demand for green products continues to grow there will be an increase in innovation and research for materials that break down, contributing to a reduction in the waste stream.

Green restaurant programs can be significant points of differentiation for an operator in a highly competitive industry. Foodservice operators will need to align themselves with the right sources.

The business relationship between distributors and operators will be tested and both sides will need education about the nuances in the new Green Guides. A sense of accountability surrounding “eco-friendly” programs will also emerge based on how they are presented to the public.

No longer acceptable

Recently, we saw studies and stories by CBS News about the illegitimacy of starch-based cutlery that has flooded the market over the past decade. This cutlery was marketed as “compostable” and in some cases reports show the cutlery can have as much as 20 percent plastic in its ingredient mix. This will no longer be tolerated or acceptable. 

Product selection for compostable and green items may be limited because this category is still relatively new, but demand will continue to exist in major metropolitan areas and innovation will follow. There will be room for new suppliers and products, which will drive enhanced product performance.

With an open mind, foodservice operators can still maintain competitive operating budgets while keeping on the right side of the guidelines, meeting the expectations of customers, and doing their part to contribute to waste stream reduction. 

Scott Attman is a third-generation family  member-owner of Acme Paper and Supply Co., distributor of sustainable products. Reach him at scattman@acmepaper.com

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