What is Greenwashing & why should we be aware?
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound than they really are. In other words, it is exaggerating claims that mislead us as customers into buying a product that is not as environmentally friendly as we thought.
One of the biggest offenders is bioplastic. They boast with all the right language - ‘degradable’, ‘compostable’, ‘recyclable’. It’s made from sugarcane, beets and corn starch, how can it possibly be bad? Adding one molecule of oxygen to water seems harmless enough, after all. However, ‘compostable’ needs to come with a huge asterisk next to it. The majority of these products are designed to be composted in industrial facilities, which use temperatures of 50 degrees celsius or higher. This means that these ‘compostable’ products will not naturally break down in your every day, back garden compost heap. So don’t worry if you’ve ever put one of these in your composter and felt that you did something wrong (it’s pretty misleading). Look out for the home compost label to see whether a product is actually suitable for home composting.
Degradable vs. biodegradable:
Here’s the secret - all plastics degrade, they just don’t disappear. Sunlight helps to break the plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces (the dreaded microplastic) that stay in the environment forever. They aren’t technically lying, just manipulating the truth to sound environmentally friendly. Always be aware of companies using degradable as opposed to biodegradable, which means that the product will break down completely in the environment and turn into organic material, usually within the timeframe of weeks to months.
Surely the tried and tested recyclable symbol can be trusted? Did you know that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been properly recycled? When you consider that the world has produced over 9 BILLION tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, that’s a scary statistic! Not all plastic is recyclable, take for example a toothbrush. Items like toothbrushes are made from a mixture of materials which make them difficult to recycle, that means if Henry VIII had used a plastic toothbrush, it would still be with us today! It should also be noted that recycling happens under very specific conditions. If it is contaminated in any way then the entire batch is sent to landfill. Contamination is usually as a result of containers not being cleaned properly or when a non-recyclable item ends up with the recyclable items (such as single use plastic, like the film from a punnet of strawberries).
So it’s simply a case of the process, we just need to improve our recycling system! Unfortunately not. Plastic is not infinitely recyclable like glass or aluminium, and can only be recycled at most two or three times before the quality becomes too poor for use. Even then, the recycled material often gets lumped with fresh, new plastic before being used. Have you ever seen a bottle that boasts 50% recycled plastic? So what’s the best plan of action? Reduce your plastic intake, reuse or refill what you have as much as you can (keeping everything in its life cycle for as long as possible) and recycle as a last resort.
It is so infuriating when big brands claim to be ultra sustainable, despite still using plastic bottles because ‘people still want plastic bottles.’ We’re all looking at you, Coca-Cola. They are by no means the only culprit, either. How many people are trying to make an eco-conscious choice and turn to H&M’s conscious range (the same H&M accused of burning 12 tonnes of clothes each year!) where they boast about using recycled materials? For the purposes of this post, I tried searching for a dress in this range. 100% polyester, and I’m unable to find what percentage is recycled. 2%? It merely states that they have a goal to ‘use 100% recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030’. Sounds pretty vague to me.
A lot of companies are guilty of greenwashing. If a company cannot be transparent in its ethics, then they usually have something to hide. They try to hide it beneath a blanket of impressive sounding language and vague promises about being sustainable by some year in the distant future. There is always a better option, and zero waste shops like Sero are aiming to make truly sustainable choices accessible, convenient and affordable for everyone, and they’re always on the lookout for great new products to make it easier for everyone to be green!
Thank you for reading, and hopefully we will see you at the shop soon!
By Elise Lavender