08 July 2021

Nearly half of ‘green’ claims on plastic products could be misleading – NGO study finds

Analysts from ECOS and the Rethink Plastic alliance have examined the claims made on 82 plastic items. Products studied include some of the most commonly found on beaches across Europe such as plastic bottles, bags and cutlery.

In the absence of clear, specific legislation on ‘green’ claims, companies are free to use vague language, which can often be confusing and potentially mislead consumers. A stroll to any local supermarket is enough for anyone to find a myriad of ‘green’ claims on plastic products, then often found washed up on beaches.

Many of those statements are irrelevant to addressing the plastic crisis or supported by weak evidence, as shown in a study conducted by ECOS and the Rethink Plastic alliance on the ‘green’ claims displayed on 82 different products containing plastics or plastic packaging [1].

Main study results:

  • 75% of the claims examined were self-made and not verified by independent third parties
  • 49% were potentially unclear to consumers as they did not provide sufficient information
  • 46% were irrelevant to addressing plastic pollution
  • 26% lacked supporting evidence and were therefore considered not reliable

Most claims found in the assessment related to the following characteristics of plastic products: reusable, recyclable, containing recycled material, biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based.

Analysts highlighted some of the worst examples they found:

– ‘Reusable’ dishware: Cheap plastic glasses, cups, plates and silverware are sold as ‘reusable’ in supermarkets. This is due to the absence of clear standards on what can be referred to as reusable. Analysts concluded that clear definitions and criteria on what makes plastic items reusable are missing and needed.

– Biodegradable bottles: A common false solution doing more harm than good to the environment. Beverage bottles are already widely recycled, and it is preferable for bottles to be produced from recyclable materials rather than promoting biodegradability. Advertising biodegradable bottles is environmentally counterproductive and irrelevant.

– Biodegradable clothing: Products claiming to be biodegradable in landfill conditions. Such products, however, only incentivise the take-make-waste consumption models.

The full report can be found here: ‘Too good to be true? A study of green claims on plastic products’: https://bit.ly/TooGoodToBeTrueECOSRPA

Recommendations to policymakers

Greenwashing can be dramatically reduced if policymakers act. The study offers four recommendations to policymakers and standardisation organisations to put an end to unreliable ‘green’ claims:

1. Eliminate all loose and stretchable definitions in legislation and standards
2. Set clear rules in legislation about what can and what cannot be claimed
3. Strengthen enforcement of legislation and sanctions against greenwashing
4. Make sustainable products the norm

Mathilde Crêpy, senior programme manager at ECOS, said:

‘Companies should innovate real product solutions and give people honest information. During this analysis, we have found lots of false solutions and gadget innovation where brands tell consumers they are acting to solve our environmental problems when they are not. We will not solve the plastic pollution crisis with artificial green labels’.

Justine Maillot, policy coordinator of the Rethink Plastic alliance, said:

‘EU decision-makers must act promptly to put an end to the harmful and ever-increasing wave of unregulated green claims, and hold companies accountable. Prohibiting unreliable, irrelevant and confusing information is a key component in allowing consumers to make informed choices, and to actually prevent plastic pollution and achieve a truly circular economy’.


Notes to editors: 

Methodology: The study is based on a benchmarking of claims against the UNEP Fundamental Principles [2] and the ECOS Ideal Claims Checklist, developed by the authors of the study. Product categories covered by the study are: Plastic bottles and jugs, sachets and pouches, plastic film and bags, plastics in food service, clothing, and diapers & wet wipes.

Some figures on the impact of plastic pollution: An estimated 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans and the equivalent to the load of more one million garbage trucks per day, or 3 trucks every minute, is estimated to be added each year [3]. The annual flow of plastic waste into the ocean could almost triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tonnes per year [4] or 9 trucks every minute. If all this waste were displayed on the world’s coastline, there would be 50 kg of plastic for every metre [5].

[1] ECOS/Rethink Plastics alliance study – Too good to be true? A study of green claims on plastic products – https://bit.ly/TooGoodToBeTrueECOSRPA

[2] UNEP, Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information Global guidance on making effective environmental, social and economic claims, to empower and enable consumer choice, 2017. Available at: https://wedocs.unep.org/handle/20.500.11822/22180

[3] Jambeck et al., Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, Science, 2015. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768

[4] Pew, Sytemiq, Breaking the plastic wave: A comprehensive assessment of pathways towards stopping ocean plastic pollution, 2020. https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2020/07/breakingtheplasticwave_report.pdf

[5] European Commission, Our oceans, seas and coasts, – Descriptor 10: Marine litter. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/


Ivo Cabral, press manager at ECOS – ivo.cabral@ecostandard.org 
Mathilde Crêpy, senior programme manager at ECOS – mathilde.crepy@ecostandard.org 

About ECOS: 

ECOS is an international NGO with a network of members and experts advocating for environmentally friendly technical standards, policies and laws. We ensure the environmental voice is heard when they are developed and drive change by providing expertise to policymakers and industry players, leading to the implementation of strong environmental principles. Learn more on www.ecostandard.org

About Rethink Plastic:

Part of the Break Free From Plastic movement, is an alliance of leading European NGOs working towards ambitious EU policies on plastics. It brings together Carbon Market Watch, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), ClientEarth, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), European Environmental Citizen’s Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS), Greenpeace, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and Zero Waste Europe. Together they represent thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State working towards a future free from plastic pollution. More info: www.rethinkplasticalliance.eu


ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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