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.

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The Benefits of Sustainable Packaging

Cost and a lack of scalable innovations are barriers for sustainable business strategies, though there are many benefits to minimizing your footprint that exceed the expense. Thinking outside the box when it comes to your company’s packaging and shipping processes can keep your budget in the black while keeping the rest of the world green.

The packaging industry is one of connections and community. We touch millions of lives on a daily basis, protecting your goods as they move from place to place. Whenever a product is ordered, or a package sent, a packaging company is put to work. It’s a huge responsibility to protect goods from the ever-present dangers of bumpy roads and fumbling hands, but the health of consumers must be protected as well.

Changing to a sustainable business model might seem like a burdensome chore, especially as it becomes increasingly mandated by law. However, we choose to see sustainable packaging as less of an obligation, and more of an opportunity. Our industry knows that many of our customers are concerned with keeping the world healthy. We believe taking the time to make our business environmentally friendly will yield benefits that far outweigh the cost.

In an interview with Packaging Digest, Adam Gendell, Associate Director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), stated that sustainable packaging companies “must always operate with a firm understanding of what the consumers expect from brands, and in 2017, a brand is expected to operate with a compelling sustainability story.”

At FP International, we don’t take our commitment to human well-being lightly. It’s important to us that we remain honest stewards of consumer health. The best way we can do that is by steadily improving the way we operate to use less resources, lowering our environmental footprint and facilitating recycling in the process.

The Cost of Doing Business

Plastic is one of the many problems our world currently faces. Over 8 million tons of it are floating offshore, and immediate steps need to be taken to avoid adding more to it. By sourcing our loosefill and air cushions from recycled, sustainable material, we’ve taken the first of many steps toward fulfilling that goal.

The plastic problem is matched by the threat we face from carbon emissions. Plastic production creates a lot of harmful gases. The only ways to reduce them are to use less or repurpose what’s already here. Unfortunately, that makes many turn their head toward paper. In reality, have an even larger negative environmental impact. In order to reduce our carbon emissions, we’ve phased out the production of ozone-depleting chemicals. On a wider positive note, carbon emissions released into the atmosphere had stalled as of 2014, meaning that widespread efforts to tackle this issue are working.

By using all recyclable materials in the goods you manufacture, you acknowledge costs that might not show up on a financial ledger. Continuing to consume resources without recycling at our current rate will result in environmental costs that will need to be paid in the future. We’re all better served by fixing the issue step-by-step, so that future generations don’t face a life-threatening, insurmountable situation.

Making Haste, Not Waste

The primary goal of any packaging company is to protect your goods from damage. However, it’s also imperative that goods are moved quickly and efficiently. Making strong products doesn’t have to mean making them heavy or cumbersome. Our air cushions are extremely thin and light, but they’re even more durable than they were decades ago. The challenge is finding the right balance between durability and sustainability.

One way packaging companies accomplish this is by reducing the volume and dimensions of the packaging itself. This not only reduces the amount of resources needed to make packaging, it also means shipping companies can send more items in fewer vehicles.

Companies that shift to a dimensional weight-based pricing system also need fewer vehicles to transport their goods. Using package volume rather than traditional weight to predict space needed is much more accurate. If your business ships goods, you can use this system to tremendous advantage by downsizing your packaging. For example, a company that ships clothing could use bubble mailers instead of bulky boxes.

The changes don’t have to be drastic. It can be as simple as adapting consciously to the introduction of a new, smaller product. Instead of using standard boxes and adding more cushioning to accommodate the product, use smaller boxes with less void. Small changes like this are important and add up to a great deal of good.

What Goes Around Comes Around

In packaging, there are two paths to sustainability. The first, and most common, is linear. A linear model involves using materials that have measurably less impact on the environment in the short term, even if they’re not recyclable. We’ve become very efficient at producing petroleum-based packaging materials in a way that uses the bare minimum. This route can both save a packaging company money and reduce environmental impact in an immediate way. If a business continually strives to use the lightest packaging available, they’re engaging in linear business practices.

sustainable paths

Image source: Packaging Digest

The other, more responsible method, as seen in the graphic above, is cyclical. By choosing to invest in a cyclical packaging philosophy, businesses make a direct effort to use packaging that is highly recyclable and long-term sustainable. Raw materials used in the beginning of production are sourced from those at the end.

The downside to the cyclical track is that as the technology behind recyclable and biodegradable plastics is fairly new. Our systems for reclaiming these materials aren’t as efficient as using cheaper materials or just making new packaging.

Packaging Digest describes the difficulty:

“Our petroleum-based packaging infrastructure is both well-established and highly efficient, while our material recovery infrastructure has been slow to catch up, and infrastructure surrounding non-traditional packaging materials (such as biopolymers) is in its infancy. This can mean that, today, more non-renewable fossil resources might be required to produce recyclable or biobased polymer packaging than to produce the traditional petroleum-based alternatives. We know we cannot rely indefinitely on the current system despite its relative efficiency, as this efficiency depends on a finite resource. However, choosing recyclable or biobased polymers has the potential to increase our fossil fuel burden in the short run.”

No matter which path you choose, sustainability is no longer a niche market. The number of consumers aggressively looking for Earth-first ideals in the products they buy is enormous. When you show that you’re willing to listen and do your part, customers will respond in kind.

Revamping your packaging to be environmentally friendly can keep your wallet as green as the trees outside. Not only will you find more efficient processes, but it will boost your reputation as a company that is more concerned with preservation than profit. Though the initial investment might sting, you can rest easy knowing that you are ensuring the longevity of your business and our planet at the same time. After all, if you intend to build something, why not build it to last?