Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A tweet from the Twitter account of Perfectly Green Ltd, a supplier of artificial grass products, posted on 22 May 2022, advertised their Soul Eco-grass product. Images of the product were accompanied by text which stated “New for 2022! [sunglasses sun emoji] Soul Eco-grass is recyclable [recycle logo emoji, thumbs up emoji] The PP backing means it’s also great for dog owners!”.
The environmental pressure group, Plastics Rebellion, challenged whether:
1. the claim that the product was recyclable was misleading, because they understood that the “PP backing” referred to the material polypropylene, which complicated the recycling process; and
2. the name “Soul Eco-grass” misleadingly implied that the product was eco-friendly, because they believed artificial grass was damaging to the environment.
1. Perfectly Green Ltd said that Soul Eco-grass was manufactured from materials that belonged to the polyolefin family of polymers, namely polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). They understood that polyolefins could be recycled by pyrolysis (cracking) or gasification, and that their chemical composition and structure made them a potentially useful source of hydrocarbons or carbon atoms. They provided links to two online news articles, an online blog post, and a link to a website which they believed supported the claims made regarding the recyclability of the product.
Perfectly Green said they believed that as the backing of the product was made of PP, and did not include conventional artificial grass backings such as latex or polyurethane, potential recycling of the product would not face the complications associated with artificial grasses which used non-polypropylene-based backings. Perfectly Green also said that the producer of the product had informed them that they believed PE and PP plastics did not need to be separated when recycled.
Perfectly Green said they acknowledged that consumers did not yet have widespread access to recycling plants suitable for the product, because such sites were at the early stages of development in the UK, but that they expected facilities to be available in the future. They said it was their understanding that the product was, nonetheless, fully recyclable.
2. Perfectly Green said that they believed the technical specification of the product as outlined above meant that they were entitled to name it “Eco-grass”.Regarding the perceived environmental damage caused by artificial grass, they said that it was sometimes used as an alternative to concrete, decking, patio slabs or other artificial and/or manufactured surfaces. They said that artificial grass could be an option for homeowners whose lawns could not be maintained due to issues such as lack of sunlight, the presence of lawn pests, or due to old age or disability. They also pointed out its use as a safety surface in playgrounds, and its ability to create ‘green spaces’ in locations such as roof gardens and balconies.
Perfectly Green also said they believed that the product was environmentally friendly because it did not need to be watered, did not require upkeep with chemical-based products such as pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers, and did not need to be mowed. They did, however, inform the ASA that they would remove the words “Eco-grass” from the name of the product, and that no future marketing communications for the product would contain that name, or claims which implied that the product was environmentally friendly.
The ASA welcomed Perfectly Green’s assurance that future marketing communications for the product would not use the name “Eco-grass”, or claim that it was environmentally friendly.
We considered that consumers would understand the claim that Soul Eco-grass was recyclable to mean that the product was easily recyclable once it had reached the end of its life cycle. We considered that consumers would expect that recycling process to be available to UK consumers.
We consulted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the matter of the recycling of PE and PP materials. We understood from Defra that plastics usually needed to be separated into their specific “families” (PE, PP etc.) prior to any reprocessing, because mixed materials gave poorer quality recyclate. We also understood that Defra did not believe that, at the time of the complaint, the UK had the necessary infrastructure to carry out that recycling process, nor were they aware of recycling locations which could do so. We noted that this understanding was echoed by Perfectly Green’s own response, that UK consumers did not yet have widespread access to recycling plants suitable for the product.
Perfectly Green provided links to a short online news article published by Metropolis, a design and architecture magazine, which referred to the sustainability and recyclability of PP and a link to a blog post by a polymer testing laboratory based in the USA, titled “Polyolefins are Everywhere!”, which described common uses for different types of plastics, and said that they were considered non-toxic.
We did not consider that either article was relevant to the issue raised in the complaint. While we acknowledged that PP might be recyclable under the right circumstances, that fact did not address the complications posed to the recycling process by a product made up of both PP and PE, nor did it negate the lack of infrastructure in the UK which could carry out such recycling. We also did not consider that either polyolefins prevalence or potential lack of toxicity was relevant to the issue of whether Soul Eco-grass could be recycled.
Perfectly Green also provided links to an online article discussing the future of the sustainability and recycling of artificial turf, published on the Synthetic Turf Councils’ website, and a Netherlands-based website for a Dutch company responsible for building the first circular processing facility for artificial grass. We did not consider that articles discussing the potential future of the industry, or which highlighted the steps taken in the Netherlands to address the problem of recycling artificial grass, were relevant to the issue of how Eco Soul-grass would be recycled in the UK at the time of the complaint.
In the absence of any qualifications noting the difficulties posed to the recycling of the product due to its mixed composition, and the lack of existing UK infrastructure to process it once it had reached the end of its life cycle, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 11.1 11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. and 11.4 11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product's life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims).
The CAP Code required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and stated that unqualified claims could mislead if they omitted significant information. It also stated that claims must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the ad stated otherwise, and required that marketing communications did not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. The Code also required that absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation.
The ASA considered that the inclusion of the word “eco” in the name of the product implied that it was “eco-friendly”, and that the ad contained no qualifications or further information about the basis for that. We considered that the overall wording of the ad, which portrayed the product in a positive environmental light, together with the use of “eco” in the product name, and the inclusion of the recycle symbol and thumbs up emojis, meant that consumers would understand that the product was “eco-friendly”.
We considered that claims that products were “eco-friendly” were absolute, and in the absence of further context or qualification, would be understood to mean that the advertised product was not harmful to the environment in any way, throughout its full life cycle. We therefore expected to see evidence which demonstrated that Soul Eco-grass caused no environmental damage over its full life cycle.
We acknowledged Perfectly Green’s comments that they believed the lack of watering, or need for upkeep with potentially chemical-based products or lawnmowers, meant that the product was environmentally friendly. However, because the extraction of raw materials and subsequent processing of those materials in order to produce artificial grass had a negative impact on the environment, we did not consider that the product had a positive environmental impact across its full life cycle. We also did not consider that the potential uses of the product highlighted by Perfectly Green were relevant to the environmental impact it had, and considered that in some circumstances the product would be used to replace real grass, thereby having a detrimental impact on biodiversity.
Because we considered that the ad would be understood by consumers to mean that Soul Eco-grass was environmentally friendly, and because we had seen no evidence regarding the environmental impact over the course of the full life cycle of the product, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 11.1 11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. 11.3 11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer's previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear. and 11.4 11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product's life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Perfectly Green Ltd to ensure that future marketing communications did not mislead as to the ease of the recycling of their products, and did not imply that their products were environmentally friendly if that was not the case.