ASA rules on product degradability, carbon dioxide emissions from cars

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has given the go-ahead to producers of biodegradable packaging to advertise the litter creating potential of non-biodegradable competing materials. And in a separate ruling, it has once again criticised a car manufacturer for playing down the global warming effect of vehicle emissions.

The first case concerned a promotional leaflet for FibrePak, a packaging material made from recycled paper by Moulded Fibre Packaging. In extolling the product's environmental benefits, the leaflet compared its litter creating potential with non-biodegradable materials. Beneath a picture of a river bank with expanded polystyrene floating at the edge ran the caption "Expanded polystyrene...some people can't bear the touch of it...Nobody can stand the sight of it...There is a cleaner alternative."

Cemoss, a producer of expanded polystyrene packaging, complained to the ASA that the leaflet had been designed to show its own product "in the worst possible light".

The ASA rejected the complaint on the grounds that the manner in which FibrePak had drawn attention to polystyrene's greater resistance to breakdown by the elements was not "unreasonable or denigratory". It appears that, at least on the issue of visual blight caused by non-biodegradable materials, advertisers are now free to portray competitive products in the "worst possible light." Indeed, FibrePak's leaflet has been revised and now refers to other non-biodegradable materials.

The second case concerned a press advertisement by Vauxhall Motors for its new Astra. The company claimed that the catalytic converter fitted to the car eliminates up to 90% of its "harmful" exhaust emissions and would therefore be less detrimental to cyclists. The Cyclists' Touring Club complained that the wording ignored the catalyst's inability to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the ASA, Vauxhall responded by arguing that "no incontrovertible evidence is available to show the release of carbon dioxide was detrimental to the environment." The ASA disagreed, concluding that it is "unwise to assume that the gas was harmless to the environment." Although not upholding the complaint on the grounds that carbon dioxide is not directly harmful to cyclists, it has urged Vauxhall to replace the word "harmful" with "toxic" to avoid ambiguity.

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