Misleading marketing is everywhere.
From the food and beverage industry, clothing and charity, consumers are constantly being misled and the emerging “Green” or “Eco-friendly” industry is no different. In light of the ever-growing emphasis by environmentalists and conscious consumers for big businesses to operate in a more sustainable manner, many companies have been trying to conform.
Some of these efforts are genuine, however, statistics show that in the North American market, 95 per cent of self-proclaiming eco-friendly products are false.
Today, we will learn about greenwashing and why environmentally friendly products are not always what they seem.
What exactly is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.
Source: Oceanic Global
One of the more common forms of greenwashing is false “green” certification and labelling. Have you ever bought an oil for your hair that is boldly labelled “Coconut Oil”, then checked the back of the item only to see the first five most abundant ingredients are anything but coconut oil? Well this is how deceptive labelling works.
Often these products do contain what they claim, however it is usually either present in small quantities or has a host of other questionable ingredients. Furthermore, companies which claim such stellar properties often have either a false or internally assessed certification. Internal assessment usually hides the inadequacy of the product.
Consumers have to first, learn the language and then, read the labels.
So here is a crash course. Bioplastics are an umbrella term used for plastics that are biobased, biodegradable or both and herein lies the confusion within these definitions.
The Issue of Biodegradability
As the plastic ban was announced and then implemented in Barbados, it has brought many new food packaging alternatives to the market, many of which claim to be biodegradable. Everything in this world is truly biodegradable, given sufficient time (which can mean thousands of years).
It is not enough for companies to simply label a product as biodegradable without the addition of a timeline and/or conditions required. Biodegradable plastics can be partly or fully made from plants or other biological matter but can also be fossil based. Now, 'degradable' is not to be confused with ‘biodegradable’ because anything that is degradable will not fully break down into the soil when it ends up in the landfill but instead will breakup into smaller pieces of plastic.
Biobased plastics are materials in which the composition is made fully, or in part, from plants or other biological matter. The most common on our local market is PLA (polylactic acid).
So, compostable and biodegradable may appear to be sort of the same, but they are not. Biodegradable is made for breaking down in landfills, and compostable is made with a specific set of requirements to break down safely in a compost.
Which of these are better for Barbados - for our health, the environment and the economy?
Biodegradable or compostable? Or what about some of the brands on the local market that we are starting to see? This is not something that can easily be answered. This becomes even more apparent at the point of disposal where we must analyse the material’s end of life cycle and if a facility exists in the location that can handle the material. We must also take into consideration the impacts of the farming of some of these crops for plant based resin. Regardless, these alternatives are still single use and the best alternative is to choose reusable where possible!
Some quick tips:
- Avoid ‘degradable’ products
- Be aware of the presence of PFAs (Per - and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) in some of the moulded fibre packaging such as those made from sugar cane bagasse (More on this in another blog).
This may all seem like a never-ending plight where everything is harmful for human health, our water or our animal friends. As consumers, we must do our research. However, the continued development of national standards and testing is supported.
There is also a place for policy reform in the Health and Food Safety sector which is becoming more apparent as some customers’ reusable containers are allowed and others are not due to valid health and safety concerns. Could paying a deposit for a branded glass, stainless steel or silicone container that is sterilized and swapped each time that you get food make life so much easier and help to save money too?
Check back in next week where I will continue the Greening the Nation blog series. As always, please share any comments, questions or concerns below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As I continue to spread awareness on environmental issues and inspire individuals to make small changes that create a big positive impact towards an environmentally sustainable and conscious Caribbean, I value the knowledge that others share as well as support you at whichever step of the journey you are at.
Co-written by Nikola Simpson and Sustainable Caribbean environmental intern, Kerri-Ann Bovell.