08 July 2021

Nearly half of ‘green’ claims on plastic products could be misleading – read our new report!

Together with the Rethink Plastic alliance we have examined ‘green’ claims made on 82 plastic items. We have focused on everyday products, including items which are the most common on beaches across Europe such as plastic bottles, bags and cutlery.

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 (source). The annual flow of plastic waste into the ocean could almost triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tonnes per year 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 for every metre!

It has long been clear that we have a problem – and consumers are more aware this issue than ever before. Unfortunately, in the absence of clear, specific legislation on ‘green’ claims, companies are free to use vague language to advertise their products as ‘environmentally friendly’ – and this can often be confusing and potentially mislead consumers.

Green claims have become a commercial argument for an ever-growing market of ‘eco-conscious’ consumers wishing to be a part of the solution to reverse the plastic pollution crisis. 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.

Our analysis has revealed that many of those claims are irrelevant to addressing the plastic crisis or supported by weak evidence. Our new report examines types of online green claims consumers are faced with on plastic products, and explains how they could be misunderstood or even counter environmental principles.

The report also proposes ways to improve consumer information tools to ensure their environmental ambition, transparency and trustworthiness. We provide recommendations, primarily for policymakers, but also to an extent for companies, standardisers and certification schemes to act collectively and empower consumers with information which can truly inspire conscious choices. Finally, the report offers a clear checklist for identifying ‘ideal’ claims, i.e. those which contribute towards protecting our environment.

What can be done to put an end to unreliable ‘green claims’?

  • Eliminate all loose and stretchable definitions in legislation and standards
    Instead, green claims on reusability, refillability, recyclability, compostability, biodegradability, and recycled- and bio-based content of plastic products should be checked against a robust checklist, such as our ECOS Ideal Claims Checklist.
  • Set clear rules in legislation about what can and what cannot be claimed
    More clarity should be provided thanks to the development of a list of banned green claims, as well as one specifying the green claims allowed – including a harmonised method to substantiate these.
  • Strengthen enforcement of legislation and sanctions against greenwashing
    Market surveillance should be more robust to make sure that only good commercial practices take place. At the same time, consumers should be able to easily and systematically report potentially misleading claims on products. Finally, economic and reputational sanctions against non-compliant companies should be strengthened.
  •  Make sustainable products the norm
    Policymakers should use and further extend the combination of push-pull mechanisms by putting in place mandatory product environmental labelling alongside ecodesign requirements for plastic products.

It goes without saying that the issue needs to be addressed: consumers deserve reliable and credible information in order to be able to play their part in the green transition. Companies wishing to boast about the environmental performance of products must do so by providing people with full and frank information. Only this way will brands build consumer trust, enable fair comparison with competitors, and genuinely help protect the environment.

‘Too good to be true? A study of green claims on plastic products’ – read our report!

 

ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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