I recently saw a TV ad for a cleaning product sold in a 50% recycled plastic bottle. The advert claims this to be a great green move by the company, but is it? Is a 50% recycled plastic bottle better than nothing at all? Possibly. But is it a solution to the global plastic crisis? Absolutely not. It is far from solving the single-use plastic crisis. In fact, it is making things worse by masking the real issue of where does it go after being used and discarded.
Plastic can be a great material – versatile, durable, light, cheap – but once thrown out, it poses one of the worst human-made hazards to the environment. The problem with that 50% recycled bottle is that it is still just as likely to end up in the ocean to get eaten by marine animals, just as much as one made from 100% new plastic or even a 100% recycled plastic. Moreover, such ads perpetuate the myth of plastic recycling as an efficient and reliable process, which is far from reality. According to greenmatters.com, only around 9% of US plastic waste “is being recycled. As if that weren’t enough, nearly all of that plastic that does get recycled is actually downcycled, which means it gets less and less useful every time, eventually becoming so flimsy that it can no longer be recycled properly.” Numbers are slightly better in Europe at 30% and China at 25%, but you get the idea. The other fundamental issue with the ad is that fails to ask the more important question - do we even need the plastic bottle in the first place? Considering the environmental damage plastic waste causes, can we not find a better alternative? Why not, instead focus on ways of eliminating and reducing the demand for single-use plastic in the first place? Can we not swap the single-use plastic bottle for a reusable and a refillable one, plastic or otherwise? Reusing the same plastic bottle over and over again, ensures that it will not end up in rivers or oceans or landfill, while sending it to be recycled is a bit of a gamble. If only around 9% of plastic is recycled, you can’t be sure where it will actually end up.
What such company offers is a false solution to a very real crisis. It’s like stabbing someone with a knife and offering them a plaster for the wound. That someone being the environment. Of course, the company cannot control where the packaging ends up as post-consumer waste, yet that is not a reason to avoid responsibility for producing it in the first place; that is not a reason to continue encouraging the consumer to purchase items in single-use plastic containers; that is not a reason to perpetuate the myth that most people believe “just put it in the recycling bin, and all will be fine”. Will it? Unlikely unless the greenwashing turns into action leading to real impact.
The 50% recycled plastic bottle ad is a perfect example of greenwashing. It is done for the sake of making the company look way more eco-friendly than it actually is, saving them the effort of real changes by modifying the label instead. In essence, greenwashing uses big “green” words with no solid evidence.
I wouldn’t blame someone for having bought a greenwashed product. It is misleading, and it is misleading on purpose, to the company’s benefit. So it is the company that is responsible for selling “green” lies, but the consumer is responsible for being able to spot them.
The bad news is that there is a lot of greenwashing out there. The good news is that we can choose not to buy from companies that greenwash and instead support other companies that actually care to minimise the damage. Consumer demand for more eco-friendly alternatives is gaining momentum; we just need to make sure that the demand for actual impactful changes, and not sweet little green lies is being heard also.
Here are some good tips on how to spot greenwashing: https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-identify-greenwashing-your-everyday-living/
Charley Derbaer/Imaginative Polycraft
21 Sept 2021