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Eco-friendly, earth-friendly, organic, sustainable, green, conscious… Confused about what all these symbols, words and statements mean? Do the green labels on the package guarantee a benefit (or at least no damage) to the environment?

The targeted use of these terms, especially by marketers, creates widespread confusion about which materials and products are best for the planet. Even worse: there are plenty of common misconceptions that are the complete opposite of reality. And that’s what greenwashing is all about.

Greenwashing refers to purposeful, misleading actions that companies take in order to present a cleaner image with regards to their environmental footprint. They can do this through the products they market, falsely advertising them as environmentally friendly products, or through marketing strategies, such as logos, corporate colours, slogans, etc.

As a general simple rule, substituting a single-use product for another single-use product, regardless of the material from which it is made, should be avoided at all costs.

At Save the Med, this is what we call a “False Alternative”: products marketed in order to mislead the public into believing that its environmental impact is null, or less than that of the product it replaces. In some cases, its impact is actually equal or even greater.

So what can we do as consumers? Here are some things to watch out for with plastic alternatives in particular:

Don’t fall for the labelling - take a closer look!

Many products use green and brown colours or symbols of recycling, leaves or plants as a technique to draw eco-conscious customers in. Many of these products contain plastic or are disposable and they can have the same impact on nature or our health as single-use plastics. Have a closer look to see what they’re really about. Look for real, certified logos (see guide below) and always read the ingredients. If it looks like plastic and feels like plastic, is probably is - even if it says “plastic-free”.

Materials:
Bio or plant based products can be misleading. Products and packaging made from plants can still be highly processed. Some paper/cardboard products are sometimes sold as “greener” alternatives to plastic but are still disposable and generate waste. They can also contain a thin layer of plastic film, due to the need to ensure they remain waterproof. This laminating of materials makes them impossible to recycle.

Standards: As a rule, packaging products marketed as biodegradable and/or compostable are subject to certain standards and norms.

One important thing to note is that “compostable” products are only compostable in industrial plants, and won’t necessarily compost in your gardeb compost. Moreover, not all composting plants are able to treat these products and, as a result, they end up in landfill or are incinerated!1

To date, there is no conclusive evidence of success as to the benefits of these products in the resulting compost. This is why biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics or bioplastics are NOT an “honest” or plastic-free alternative.

On the contrary:

They create a false perception that they are environmentally friendly products and can disappear in a short period of time in nature.

These materials may contain petroleum-based products and other harmful chemical additives that need specific conditions to degrade - conditions that do not occur in nature.There is a lack of specific analysis on the safety of these products in the resulting compost.

Technology is insufficient. In the Balearics Islands waste treatment plants, most bioplastics do not enter the composting process. They’re treated as “unwanted” by plastic waste management and recycling plants and end up with the residual waste, being sent either to landfill or for incineration.

• most bioplastics are single-use products and perpetuate the throwaway culture.

• according to European Directive 2019/904 of 5 June 2019, biodegradable plastics made from natural polymers are still considered PLASTICS.

So what can we actually buy? Any reusable option is BEST and has the least impact on the environment. Check out the guides below that can help ring those alarm bells the next time you’re out shopping.

How to spot greenwashing: Watch out for the following vague words and statements that have no certification, regulation or specific definitions and are consistently used to make products look more “eco”.

1 Source: EU Directorate-General for the Environment’s 2020 report, Relevance of Biodegradable
and Compostable Consumer Plastic Products and Packaging in a Circular Economy.