Branding and advertising are powerful tools for the environmental movement. In order to make changes to a more sustainable lifestyle, individuals can seek out brands that align with their social and environmental values. Still, environmentally-conscious consumers pay a premium for sustainable products, believing that business objectives mean that we, as people, take individual steps towards a better future.
But there's a big chance that we're being fooled.
As outside pressures push businesses and corporations to cope with our growing amounts of plastic waste, many opt for plastic alternatives that are marketed as compostable and biodegradable. Although companies producing such goods may be transitioning to less fossil fuel-intensive materials for their plastic substitutes, these products also present additional technological and practical obstacles to real compliance with the circular economy model, and this robust' green' ads may overstate the true environmental benefits of the business.
Greenwashing plastic alternatives: breaking down labels
This phenomenon has been dubbed greenwashing, a general term that describes the pattern in which businesses mislead or mislead consumers about their environmental stewardship or promote advertising that ignores the damages of their model while marketing themselves as sustainable progressives.
There are two main issues with the growth of greenwashed plastic alternatives. Most bioplastics gain their titles and marketing symbols by being generated from organic, plant-based biomass (as opposed to petroleum). While the material origins of the product may be organic, this mark promotes the idea of a product that looks and feels like plastic but inevitably breaks down in the atmosphere like organic material. Also, though, these labels only signify how the product was made, not how it would break down after use, and without the proper conditions, these bioplastics would break down in the atmosphere just as conventional plastics would: they would not.
In fact, environmental conditions will do little to speed up the destruction of so-called compostable plastics. Most of them require strict industrial standards and processes to break down, and to do so effectively requires reliable customer access to industrial composting containers. Trash and recycling bins are often readily available in many US cities and towns today, but composting bins rarely move into areas where customers can put their' compostable' alternatives to single-use plastics. However, when companies readily advertise the composability of their products, they often fail to consider the practical lengths that consumers must travel to ensure that the item is not simply disposed of in the landfill.
Such functional barriers are also common in recyclable plastic items. Well-meaning plastics engineer manufacturers that comply with recycling requirements, but customers around the globe often have no way to recycle them. In many municipalities, not every form of numbered plastic is approved, and in others, there is no plastic at all. In such situations, producers are certainly not intentionally misleading customers, but' recyclable' labels are unlikely to reflect the probable fate of the product— after all, only nine per cent of plastics manufactured worldwide have been recycled.
Bioplastics are attractive alternatives, offering consumers the convenience of single-use plastics while, apparently, alleviating some of the bad conscience associated with plastics. But its inefficiencies point to a possibly larger flaw— not the infallibility of our goods, but a culture of near-constant use and disposal.
How corporations perpetuate greenwashing
Also, the danger of greenwashing lies in the strong and vague principles of advertising.
The problem is that companies are largely given free range on their use of environmental adjectives — pictures of leaves and logos and phrases such as "eco-friendly" and "natural" often grace the plastic-intensive packaging of everyday goods. But these labels may have no sense unless they are qualified — what unique measures is a company undertaking? How are they reducing their impact by what percent, and how?
Many companies have even been known to promote practices as sustainability initiatives when they are merely law-abiding, not projects that go beyond and beyond the status quo. Even this baseless campaign, though, can have a powerful impact on consumer choice.
Looking to help customers make informed purchase choices, some California politicians are cracking down on greenwashing. In one case, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a suit against the water bottle service, Aquamanta, which said it was carrying biodegradable bottles. It was shown that their use of the word ' biodegradable' was unsubstantiated and that sales of the drug supported false or deceptive marketing claims.
In another lawsuit in California (Hill v. Roll International Corporation and Fiji Water Company LLC), a water bottling company was sued for supplying "environmentally friendly and superior" water. In reality, the company was found to use a "greater amount of natural resources" in the production and distribution of its bottled water than its rivals, with an annual effect of 46 million gallons of fossil fuel equal to 216 billion pounds of greenhouse gases.
Expecting companies to virtually eliminate their environmental footprint immediately is a far-fetched target. However, in order to promote an environment that promotes sustainable alternatives, it may be important to celebrate only small improvements. Greenwashing Customers can not help companies that merely promote their sustainability, but, more significantly, those that have demonstrated their willingness on the ground to improve their products