Greenwashing - spotting the facts from the fiction

Let’s face it - we all know by now that limiting the waste we produce is critical for a sustainable future. But what if you’re not sure how to do that? Where to start? Our best bit of advice is to begin by understanding how to read (and interpret) product labels.

If you need some help in that department, you’re in the right place.

New ‘green’ products seem to pop up every day, claiming to achieve what we want: the convenience we’ve always had, without the cost to the environment. Sounds like the dream, right? Too good to be true, even? Sadly, on many occasions, it IS.

Here is the most simple guide to knowing when to believe something a product claims, and when to doubt it.

Certified Home Compostable: Within 26 weeks of being inside your home compost or worm farm, this material will break down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. In other words, it will be indistinguishable from the rest of your compost. 

LOOK FOR THESE LOGOS ON PRODUCTS

 

Disclaimer: there is still an investment of raw materials to produce these materials. 

Certified Industrial Compostable: Within an industrial facility under controlled environmental conditions (heat, pressure, microbial content), this material will break down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. 

LOOK FOR THIS LOGO ON PRODUCTS

Disclaimer: there is still an investment of energy needed to break these materials down, the need to build more infrastructure including the facilities themselves, and all the transportation equipment to move our waste around. If you can’t get a home compostable option - this is your next best bet.

Without the certified icons, words such as ‘degradable, biodegradable, sustainable, breaks down, plastic free, plant based plastic etc.’ mean NOTHING. We suggest asking the question “are these bags/wrappers certified home compostable?”

If it is anything other than a yes, CONSIDER ANOTHER OPTION.

Then what do these other terms actually mean? 

‘Degradable’ means something that will break down into smaller pieces, or more simple structures. Everything breaks down eventually, as we see with traditional plastics which are breaking down into microplastics - contaminating everything, including our food and water supply. This is NOT a ‘claim’ that has any sustainable merit.

An example of great greenwashing involves the oxo-degradable plastic bags that are now in many supermarkets and retailers in Australia. They are green, so naturally they make us think ‘natural’ and ‘environmentally friendly’. These bags have been banned in the EU, because they, like other plastic bags, break down into microplastics in the environment. Take your own bags for your shopping.

‘Biodegradable’ means something that will break down into smaller pieces, or more simple structures (water, carbon dioxide and biomass), under the right conditions, and will not harm the environment. Biodegradable has no defined time period, so while the end result is good, it may take hundreds or thousands of years to be achieved and if the ‘right conditions’ are not met, will never be achieved in your lifetime.

'Sustainable' means to exist constantly. With respect to the environment it means not taking or using more resources than mother earth can afford to give. Right now, we are not living sustainably on earth. This word on its own, without any sort of certification means nothing in terms of the destination of your packaging.

'Breaks down' refers to something that loses its primary structure and becomes smaller pieces. It does not necessarily mean it is a safe option. Plastics ‘break down’ into microplastics which we know to be toxic to the environment.

'Plastic free' means something that doesn’t contain plastic. Usually a pretty good sign. But you should ask the question, what has it been made of/coated with to achieve its properties? 

'Plant based plastic' means plastic that is made using plant materials, such as cellulose. Without the certification of home or industrial compostable, this means a plastic that will behave like any other plastic, just that it has been made from plants, rather than fossil fuels. We need to think, are we willing to exploit plants now the way we have exploited fossil fuels to make things we don't really need? 

The last word from us

Until our waste becomes our own responsibility - we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ll be tuned into what we’re buying and reduce what we use. Being able to drop our waste into a bin and believe that someone else will just ‘take care of it’, has led us to the waste problem that we currently face. 

The best thing you can do to educate yourselves and your family, is to start taking waste matters into your own hands. Build a compost bin in your garden. Find a small one for the kitchen. Contact your local council to understand how they can assist with collecting food and green waste. Read labels. Like, REALLY read labels. And start making different decisions on what you place in your trolley, now that you know all these things.

It starts with you, and you really can make a difference. Imagine if everyone thought that way?

Have you got more questions about food wrapping? We’d love to hear from you - email us at hello@eatforyou.com.au or join us on the socials -