Photo source: FTC

"Plastic wood" is getting to be a popular product with suburban homeowners looking for cheap, long-lasting material to use in decks, benches, picnic tables and so forth.

Even better, much of the plastic wood on the market claims to be made mostly -- or even entirely -- from recycled material. The only problem with this claim is that it often isn't true, the Federal Trade Commission charges. 

An Illinois firm, Engineered Plastics Systems LLC is the latest to find itself in trouble with the FTC, after allegedly making deceptive claims in its advertising and marketing material that many of its products are made entirely of recycled plastic. In reality, according to the FTC, the products were made of less than three-quarters recycled plastic.

Under a proposed FTC settlement, the company must have credible evidence to support any environmental benefit claims it makes, with scientific proof, if necessary. It also requires EPS to be able to specifically substantiate any claims it makes about the amount of recycled content in its products.

“This is the second case the FTC has brought in the last two months related to environmental claims for plastic lumber products,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies know that consumers are increasingly looking to buy products with ‘green’ attributes. But companies can’t sell products by making false environmental claims – that’s against the law.”

EPS is based in Elgin, Illinois, and makes, advertises, sells, and distributes plastic lumber products, including picnic tables and benches. According to the complaint, since at least June of 2011, the company has run ads and distributed promotional material for its plastic lumber products describing their environmental attributes. For example, the company claimed, among other things, that some of its benches and tables were:

  • “Made entirely of recycled plastic lumber”;
  • “All recycled plastic design”; and
  • “Constructed using 2x4 recycled plastic lumber profiles.”

The FTC alleges that while a reasonable consumer would likely interpret EPS’s claims to mean that its products are made from all, or virtually all, recycled plastic, in fact, between June 2011 and 2014, they contained, on average, only about 72 percent recycled plastic. The products also contained some non-recycled plastic and a mineral component.

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