All the green words – the truth behind the label
Updated: Mar 31
Pressure from the public to act on plastic pollution is growing, but swapping plastic for other materials doesn’t necessarily mitigate the issue and can rather skew the consumer’s view of what ‘environmentally friendly’ actually is and what it’s trying achieve.
So are eco-branded products really protecting our environment?
It’s important to look beyond the eco label and into the product’s lifecycle through what is called a ‘lifecycle assessment’– a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product. This analysis will often show a greater use of fossil fuels, fertilisers, water, chemical processes and use other natural resources for products deemed to be eco.
Plastic can be so many things: unnecessary, avoidable, single-use, reusable, recyclable, alternative, biodegradable, compostable, recovered, sustainable, eco-friendly, part of a circular economy and more.
So what do all these words mean?
We see them all often enough.
Simply put, avoidable, unnecessary and single-use mean it’s a convenience thing and you likely don’t need it.
Reusable, sustainable, recovered, biodegradable, eco-friendly, circular-economy-driven mean good things, right? Well, it can be a slightly blurry area, with personal interpretation being the decider of what is and isn’t deemed as good.
The word recovered is ambiguous. Recovery of plastic can be downcycling (using the product for a lesser invention (usually plastic wrap which cannot, in turn, be recovered)) or purposes such as ‘energy recovery’ which essentially means the burning of waste to produce a source of heat and energy.
Biodegradable and compostable products are widely available and tend to elicit a good feeling when purchased however, behind the label lies another hidden truth – most plastic products labelled compostable are only biodegradable through In-Vessel Composting (IVC) facilities where temperatures of 62°C have to be upheld for a period of three days before the item can biodegrade.
We’re producing, selling and buying items that are being framed as environmentally conscious when quite often they are just as invasive as plastic in the time and energy they take to break down. Swapping plastic for other materials might not be the answer to the problem when the real issue is overconsumption of single-use products.
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