Biodegradable: Friend or foe?

Should you buy and use products labeled “biodegradable”? According to, there are no specific guidelines for companies to follow before they can label a product “biodegradable”, and no organization overseeing the use of such claims. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that only products that contain materials that “break down and decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short amount of time when they are exposed to air, moisture and bacteria or other organisms” should be marketed as “biodegradable. The European Union defines biodegradable as material that will break down into mostly water, carbon dioxide and organic matter within six months. However, biodegradable items may not decompose if not exposed to biological agents, like when they are buried deep in a landfill. Other items may even degrade into even more dangerous by-products. Contact the manufacturer if you have questions and file a complaint with the FTC if they are unable to produce scientific evidence on their product’s biodegradability. The agency has sued companies for deceptive or misleading use of the term.

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