Sometimes the problem with society isn’t that we don’t care about the environment, but that we get so caught up in terminology and other tiny incidentals that we fail to see the bigger picture. This is precisely what has happened to in the saga of the biodegradable plastic bottle in California.
In 2009, ENSO introduced the concept of biodegradable PET plastic bottles. These were not the plant derived bottles that had trouble standing up to tradition heat levels, but the much stronger PET bottles that we are used to seeing our water, soda and other drinks packaged in. By 2011, ENSO had contracted with both AquaMantra and Balance Water to use their bottles. Both of these companies were small time players with eco-friendly backgrounds and looked to be moving to a more consumer conscious approach. In steps the Orange County District Attorney and slaps a lawsuit on all three companies stating that they are engaged in false labeling by calling their bottles 100% biodegradable.
The District Attorney’s Office asserted that ENSO and the partnered companies had failed to show that that the product degraded 100% and gave the companies one of two options – provide the requested proof that would meet State standards or remove all 100% biodegradable promotional materials from the marketplace including any reference on the bottles themselves.
All three companies agreed to settle out of court and pay all court fees. ENSO is also responsible for telling each of its potential California clients of the judgment and place a warning on all marketing materials for use in the state.
So, according to the State of California, ENSO bottles do not biodegrade. But is this really true? The California law states that to be labeled biodegradable the material must completely break down within one year. The ENSO bottle has been estimated to take about 3.7 years to completely biodegrade. So, technically, they do biodegrade – just not fast enough for the State of California, Orange County DA.
The product testing, done by NSF laboratory – a leader in food packaging safety testing, found that after 60 days, the original packaging for the AquaMantra bottle degraded by 4.47%. This was extrapolated out to find a total degradation time of 3.7 years.
What is the lesson that California is trying to get across here? That companies that are trying to do the right thing should go through complete testing and delay the introduction of a potentially game-changing product? Or maybe it’s the pressure from the recycling industry that has forced the DA’s hand. The recycling industry has been vocally opposed to the ENSO technology from the start because introduction of biodegradable enzyme products into their system would compromise the final product.
What seems to have happened, is that the DA has adhered to the letter of the law and ignored the intent. The intent being to prevent marketers from greenwashing their products for better sales. This wasn’t the case here, and the preliminary results have shown that ENSO has a product that will break down in under 4 years (traditional PET bottles would take over 10,000). This is a pure case of the legislative tar pit gobbling up common sense in the name of protecting the public.
What do you think? Should California take a step back and look at the progress that ENSO has made and perhaps reverse its decision?