Greenwashing and its consequences

Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the consequences of packaging and plastics consumption, increasing the demand for ‘green’ methods. ‘Biodegradable’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are terms that are used more often by companies in order to respond to these consumer demands. However, companies often try to appear greener than they actually are.

What is greenwashing?

The benefits of sustainable packaging is an important and relevant Topic. Consumers are more conscious about their current consumption, more active in recycling their waste and changing their demands and consumption to eco-friendly products. However, greenwashing exploits their good intentions, efforts and money.

Greenwashing is derived from “whitewashing” and happens when a company claims to be more eco-friendly and more socially responsible than they in actually are. These claims often appear to be nothing more than just a ‘small paint job’ to make more money.

How to avoid being greenwashed?

In order to avoid being greenwashed, it is important to be critical and be familiar with the terminology used in these eco-friendly claims. A few things to look for are:

1. Vague and General Claims

Phrases like ‘biodegradable plastics’ or ‘25% more natural’ are vague and unclear. These vague claims leave a gap for consumers to fill in. However, the baseline of the comparison is missing as well as the supposed additional benefits of the biodegradable plastics. Be critical towards claims that are unfinished, vague or too general.

2. Check Specifics

For ambiguous claims such as biodegradable or bio-based plastics, the consumer should look for specifics about what makes it biodegradable or the percentage and the origin of the bio-material.

It is important to check what actually makes the packaging biodegradable, is it bio-based or OXO-based since there is a clear distinction between them. OXO-degradable plastics are not bioplastics.

An OXO-degradable plastics contain a chemical additive that will favour degradation in specific environments with great exposure to UV light & heat (minimum 50°C). Also, the percentage of degradation is a valuable information as it will differ according to the exposure to its environment. OXO-based plastics will most of the time degrade into microplastics, which are even more harmful for the environment. Moreover, the additive makes it complicated to recycle the plastic. Therefore, a plastic is either “oxo-degradable” or recyclable, but can’t be both. In the context of the European plastics strategy, a process to restrict the use of oxo-plastics in the EU has been started. More information is available in the report from the European Commission.

Bio-plastics are made of bio-based raw materials. This doesn’t automatically make the plastic biodegradable. Plastics can be sourced from bio-materials at different levels. Some plastics can be composted – at home or in an industrial environment. All of these specifications should be indicated. When no detailed information are available, it become greenwashing.

3. Third party Certifications

A lot of companies make up their own eco-friendly claims. To avoid greenwashing, you can look for third party certifications. These certifications are from reputable organizations and only mentioned when a product complies to EU rules and regulations and have been tested. EN13427, EN13432, “home compost” or “industrial compost” are examples of these certifications in Europe.

FP International

The key take-away is that eco-friendly claims do not necessarily mean that it actually is environmentally-friendly. Biodegradable plastics are one of the most recent examples of greenwashing, since it seems to promise more than that it actually can deliver.

At FP International we believe in protecting what matters most. We not only offer innovative and customised protective packaging solution, but we do this by reducing, reusing and recycling and working from the Less is More principle. Above all, we are the only air cushion manufacturer that is fully compliant with the European Directive 94/62/EC and EN13427 on Packaging and Packaging Waste. Our air cushions are made of 100% recyclable PE material and will protect your products with 99% air.

For more information please visit www.fp-sustainability.eu