PSI News: Greenwashing Plastic and Riding Donkeys
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In this issue:
=> Feature Story: Greenwashing Plastic: Bottlers & Manufacturers in Hot Water
=> Employee Profile: Riding Donkeys With Jason Todd
=> Highlights from the Polymer Solutions Newsblog
=> Company News and Notes
Greenwashing Plastic: Bottlers & Manufacturers in Hot Water
by Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay
Exclusive to Polymer Solutions News
Fiji bottled water label (right) with green drop magnified (left). Image courtesy of PrivateWaterLaw Blog.
Ever found yourself with a product that purports to be good for the environment, then realized you've been duped? In Forbes magazine, attorneys Devika Kewalramani and Richard J. Sobelsohn at the law firm Moses and Singer in New York City rang the alarm bells on the practice of "greenwashing." It's a phenomenon that has grown recently among crafty businesses that jump on the marketing bandwagon promising environmentally friendly products, services, and manufacturing processes. But that's it: The marketing propaganda isn't actually backed up by improved products, services, or practices.
Kewalramani and Sobelsohn explain in their March 20 article:
As the world increasingly embraces the mantra of green products and services, the legal community is encountering a proliferation of litigation surrounding false and misleading environmental marketing claims. Popularly called 'greenwashing,' this recent, albeit alarming, phenomenon merges the concepts of "green" (environmentally sound), and 'whitewashing' (to gloss over wrongdoing) to describe the deceptive use of green marketing which promotes a misleading perception that a company's policies, practices, products or services are environmentally friendly. 'Eco-Friendly,' 'organic,' 'natural,' and 'green' are just some everyday examples of widely used labels that can be confusing, even misleading.
The claims of being good for the Earth have sparked lawsuits, but the first cases are just beginning to hit the courts. Kewalramani and Sobelsohn predict that we will be seeing more legal action against deceptive businesses as consumers catch onto false claims.
Some manufacturers of plastic products are among the culprits. Kewalramani and Sobelsohn give the example of Enso Plastics. The California Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, filed an action (Kamala D. Harris v. Enso Plastics, LLC, Aquamantra, Inc., Balance Water Company LLC) against a water bottling company, Aquamantra, which uses plastics by Enso Plastics and claims its bottles are biodegradable and recyclable.
California's allegation is that the plastic bottles really don't biodegrade as the bottler claims, which is a violation of the state's business and professions code, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims." Both don't allow dishonest, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claims.
In the brief (PDF) Harris argues:
Defendants claim that these plastic containers completely biodegrade, leaving only natural remains, and that this process completes itself within one to five years, and can take place in a landfill, compost, or other environment, including by the side of the road. These claims are false, deceptive, and misleading to consumers because the plastic bottles will not biodegrade as claimed, either in a landfill or any other environment...
The Guides specify that use of the claim 'biodegradable' should be 'substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature, i.e., decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.'
Then there is the case against Fiji Water Company. A consumer of the bottled water, Ayana Hill, claimed that the Fiji's green "teardrop" logo, which contains the words "every drop is green," violated the California Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and was common law fraud and unjust enrichment. Her complaint argued that the bottler's manufacturing, distribution, and packaging of water (whose "greenness" Hill did not dispute) were as bad, if not worse, than other bottled waters.
But as the PrivateWaterLaw Blog noted:
Even though the Court ultimately held that Fiji water did not violate state laws regarding environmental marketing claims, the Hill case draws attention to the care that companies must take when marketing their products.
Kewalramani and Sobelsohn warn that the practice of greenwashing has a ripple effect that goes beyond the guilty manufacturer and the duped consumer. Third parties who put their faith in greenwashed certifications, thinking these certifications will improve their own businesses, also get pulled into the web of lies and deceit.
But as Kewalramani and Sobelsohn point out, Attorneys General are battling greenwashers and the FTC has taken steps to guard against greenwashing. In October 2010, the FTC issued its revised "Green Guides" to help businesses not to mislead consumers when marketing their products or services as environmentally friendly.
Indeed, as the authors of the Forbes article note: "One thing is for sure: when greenwashing occurs, we're all taken to the cleaners."
"Greenwashing: Deceptive Business Claims of Eco-Friendliness," Forbes, March 20, 2012.
"Greenwashing in Paradise? Hill v. Roll International Corporation and Fiji Bottled Water Labeling," PrivateWaterLaw Blog, May 27, 2011.
Employee Profile: Riding Donkeys With Jason Todd
By Rachel Petkewich, News Editor
Polymer Solutions Newsblog
When Jason Todd started at PSI in 1999, the company had less than eight employees. Jason became practiced in everything from running analytical instrumentation to clearly explaining the science to clients. Now, he is PSI's Liquid Chromatography Lab Manager and Expert.
Jason became interested in analyzing polymeric compounds in graduate school. After obtaining a BS in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech, he stayed to complete an MS in Wood Science and Forest Products. Specifically, his research group studied natural polymers such as the polysaccharide found in chitin, which is found in crustacean and insects shells. His project involved modifying the polymer to make hydrogel beads for protein purification in chromatography columns.
Along the way in grad school, Jason picked up knowledge of a number of other analytical techniques including thermal analysis as well as nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectroscopy. He saw a job opening at PSI and was happy that it matched his varied skill set and allowed him to stay in the area with his wife, who had grown up in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Twelve years after he started at PSI, the company has grown in size and the roles have become more specialized. As an expert, Jason still helps PSI's senior technical consultant to answer client questions or requests. However, Jason's main responsibilities center on two analytical techniques: gel permeation chromatography (GPC) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).
Jason's day-to-day work includes overseeing three technicians who do most of the lab work. He is responsible for making sure that project tasks get done properly, safely, and on time. He helps to determine the analytical methods that will be used, troubleshoots any issues, approves data, and edits reports.
Because PSI has a strong focus on quality, Jason says that a big part of his job is also making sure that the work done in the lab conforms to ISO 17025 and Food and Drug Administration regulations for manufacturing pharmaceuticals and medical devices. That work involves conducting a lot of equipment qualification procedures as well as detailed documentation and training.
After a busy day in the lab, Jason relaxes with the calming influences of his wife, three dressage horses, and 10 donkeys on a farm outside of Blacksburg. Jason says that farming takes up pretty much all of his time outside of PSI. They have horses because his wife had been riding and showing horses as long as he had known her, and he likes taking care of horses. But about a year and a half ago -- and Jason can't quite explain why -- they also started raising donkeys. First came the miniature donkeys as pets. Then they got into American Mammoth Jackstock, which is a large donkey breed that was developed in the 1800s for the purpose of producing draft mules. Jason is planning to learn how to ride those donkeys with the goal of eventually entering them in shows.
Highlights from the Polymer Solutions Newsblog
The PSI Newsblog covers breaking news in the fields of plastics analysis, plastics testing, and plastics failure. Here are a few of the month's top articles:
- Colleges Ban Disposable Plastic Water Bottles
As more organizations, from the national parks to college campuses, start to ban disposable PET drinking water bottles, will alternative "pouch" style packaging fill the niche?
- Converting an Abundant Polymer Into Carbon Fibers
Polyethylene from plastic bags could be turned into valuable carbon fibers, thanks to a process developed by scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
- McDonald's Is Testing Replacement Coffee Cups
With a pending ban on polystyrene containers in California and a shareholder resolution to try an alternative material, McDonald's Corp. is testing out paper coffee cups.
- Plastic Money Gains in Canada
Canadians have really taken to plastic money. Last year, Canada introduced $100 bills made out of plastic.
- Plastic to Replace Wood on Iconic Boardwalk
Despite protests, New York City commission approved a plan last week to replace part of the iconic structure in fabled Coney Island with plastic and concrete.
Company News and Notes
Kate Croy Wins Interior Design International Video Competition
Kate, a part-time Administrative Assistant, along with four other Interior Design seniors from Radford University, won first place in the Interior Design Education Video Competition. Applicants from around the world competed by submitting a short video that answered, "Why Interior Design Matters?" Their winning video received a standing ovation when it was debuted at the Interior Design Education Council conference in Washington, D.C.
Travis Powell Competes in the Virginia Tech Snow Jam
On March 15, Travis Powell, a Chromatography Technician at PSI, joined more than 40 snowboarders atop 35 tons of snow in the middle of Virginia Tech's drill field. The snow had to be trucked in from the nearby Massanutten Mountain. The ramp's design provided competitors two rails and one kicker to jib and jump for best trick. Travis quickly upped the ante as he was the first rider to attempt a back flip in first heat.
PSI Grows by Two
PSI is pleased to welcome Anthony Bryant to the position of IT Administrator and Kim O'Farrell to the position of Laboratory Support Technician. Anthony's years of experience and specialized training make him well suited to ensure our IT systems meet our business and lab needs while maintaining our quality system compliance. Kim joins us from VCU after receiving her BS in Forensic Science, and she will be working throughout the organization to ensure our labs continue to run smoothly and safely.
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