Last week the ASA in South Africa reversed its verdict in January that the biodegradable claim made on Tiger Brands’ Albany Bread Bag was “unsubstantiated” following an appeal by the UK-based oxo-bio firm. The directorate said it was now “satisfied” that the bags had established its green credentials.
The original complaint had been brought by the South African Plastic Converters’ Association (PCA) against Tiger Brands. The PCA had argued that the term biodegradable bag “encourages consumers to believe that the Albany bread bag will degrade whether it is in the open or in a landfill, and that the respondent is being very environmentally responsible," said the ASA ruling. “By simply inserting the words “Biodegradable Bag” on the packaging implies that under all or any conditions the bag will degrade. This is not the case,' it added in summarising the PCA's position.
But the advertising standards watchdog said: “In considering the meaning of the claim “Biodegradable Bag” on the Albany bread packaging to the hypothetical reasonable person, the Directorate must consider whether the packaging contains anything which might lend support to the Complainant’s contention that the words mean anything other than what is actually stated.” The packaging simply states “Biodegradable Bag”. This has been substantiated. Accordingly the Directorate finds that the claim is not likely to mislead the consumer.”
Symphony’s successful appeal was based on a submission from Professor Emo Chiellini, from the University of Pisa, who said the bags would biodegrade. The PCA had called the academic’s independence into question, alleging he was a member of a Symphony advisory board - a charge Chiellini rejected.
“Given that Professor Chiellini has expressly denied being a member of ‘any Symphony Advisory Board’, the Directorate is satisfied that he is independent of the respondents and/or their suppliers,” said the ASA.
Michael Laurier, Symphony CEO, said: “We are glad that the ASA has clarified this important issue. We have offered a solution, and we trust that following this ruling by the ASA the plastics industry and commercial users will follow the lead given by Tiger Brands and use d2w technology.”
The victory for Symphony comes amid continuing debate within the plastics packaging sector over claims made by the oxo-bio industry for its products. Oxo-degradable plastics are made of petroleum-based polymers - usually polyethylene - which contain additives. Supporters of oxo-bio say the plastics “self-destruct” or biodegrade when they are exposed to UV irradiation or heat because substances such as cobalt, nickel and zinc are added to conventional plastics at the time of manufacture. These reduce the molecular weight of the material over a pre-determined period and they fragment – allowing them to be consumed by bacteria and fungi.
However, report issued by the UK Government last month challenged the environmental credentials of oxo-bio plastics, saying the materials were unsuitable for conventional recycling or composting. The report acknowledged that the plastics “can biodegrade to some extent under certain conditions” but added “it is unclear how long it takes for oxo-degradable plastics to biodegrade, or whether they biodegrade completely”.
Symphony strongly rejected the conclusions of the report and questioned its objectivity.