Choosing the most environmentally beneficial product with hundreds of choices in front of us is hard. Especially with “greenwashing” as prevalent as it is. What is greenwashing you ask? Greenwashing is when a company purposefully misleads us into believing their company and/or their products are more environmentally sound and/or beneficial than what they really are.
Have you ever been greenwashed before?
It has happened to the best of us, including me! And you feel so bad afterwards: how did I not realize? How did they trick me?! How could I have not seen the red flags?
Recently I was working with two different businesses that had no idea that they had been greenwashed. They were upset! They were annoyed! They were frustrated!
Why? Because they spent extra money on a product that was sold to them as more “sustainable” than what it really was.
The greenwashed item of the businesses: a green “degradable” plastic bag that is “eco-friendly”.
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!
How can a plastic bag be eco-friendly and degradable? And what does the word degradable even mean? Plastic does break down over time (microplastics), but it doesn’t become fossil fuel again…
Plus, included on the bag is a recycling symbol with a #2 inside (HDPE plastic) saying recyclable.
So… this PLASTIC bag is not only “eco-friendly” and “degradable”, but also recyclable?! Whaaaat? Impossible – it is plastic!
When companies use words like: biodegradable, degradable, eco-friendly, sustainable, green, or has the recycling triangle on soft flexible plastic…. they are USUALLY greenwashing us.
Companies know more people are starting to care about the long-term impacts of their decisions. We’ve heard about and now fear microplastics in our waterways. We worry about greenhouse gas production from landfills. We have experienced droughts (now multiple times). We see the impacts of rising temperatures and drier seasons, especially here in Napa.
So why do companies greenwash us? To sell their products (and their company), of course!
I mean, who doesn’t want to feel a little bit better by deciding to spoil oneself with a to-go coffee from the local coffee shop believing we are choosing the most “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” packaging and coffee possible?
But then you somehow find out you’ve been duped (aka greenwashed).
So how do you read through their lies?
Semantics are important here: just like "all natural" doesn’t mean organic on food packaging, (bio)degradable doesn’t mean compostable. A product labeled biodegradable still has to be put in your landfill cart in Napa.
However, organic and compostable are both certified terms that mean and meet very specific standards that allow them to be branded with those certifications.
When hosting an event and choosing to use single use items (because you just can’t use reusables), you will want to choose "certified compostable"; not biodegradable, not sustainable, and definitely not eco-friendly. "Certified compostable" has a regulated definition: the product will break down in a commercial composting facility within 60 days, and therefore can be put in your compost cart and not sent to landfill.
There are a ton of apps you can download on your phone that will give you ways in which you can become more sustainable or the “score” of a certain product or company – bringing transparency to an otherwise greenwashed world. Giki is one example.
When in doubt, find out. Use our website, www.NapaRecycling.com to see what goes where when choosing an item at the store or online.
And remember to look at little more closely at the eco and environmental claims of a product to help reduce the chances of falling for the greenwashing that can be all