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Greenwashing in the Packaging Industry

Greenwashing in the Packaging Industry

Unmasking Greenwashing in the Packaging Industry

In recent years, industries have faced a growing need to embrace sustainable packaging. However, as the demand for eco-friendly packaging continues to surge, an insidious trend has emerged – greenwashing.

The definition of greenwashing is when a company lies or exaggerates about how eco-friendly their product or services are, which deceives consumers. In this article, we'll talk about greenwashing in packaging and help you recognize it, including:

  • The Rise of Greenwashing
  • Packaging’s Role
  • The Environmental Perils of Conventional Packaging
  • Greenwashing in the Packaging Industry
  • Detecting Greenwashing
  • The Impact of Greenwashing: A Call to Action

The Rise of Greenwashing: A Brief History

In the 1980s, the term "greenwashing" was created to describe companies lying about how environmentally friendly their products are. Environmentalist Jay Westerveld initially coined the term in a 1986 essay. Here, he claimed the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels to “save the environment”; when, in fact, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure.

As our collective conscience becomes increasingly attuned to sustainability, greenwashing has grown rapidly, especially within the packaging realm. Companies use deceptive tactics to attract environmentally conscious customers, even if their products or services are not sustainable.

Packaging's Dual Role: Protection and Sustainability

Packaging is crucial in safeguarding products from damage, contamination, and spoilage during transportation, storage, and handling. The food industry must keep perishable goods fresh and protected from moisture, light, heat, and physical impact.

The rapid growth of the food industry has led to an unfortunate consequence – an increase in our packaging footprint. This has resulted in a significant amount of waste generated from packaging, contributing to environmental concerns. In fact, 83% of Americans are worried about the environmental impact of products they buy.

The Environmental Perils of Conventional PackagingNon-recyclable plastics

Traditional packaging materials, particularly plastics and foam, pose significant environmental threats. They pollute our ecosystems, place immense strain on natural resources, and generate mountains of waste. 

Improperly disposed plastics can find their way into rivers and oceans, causing harm to aquatic life. As plastics break down into microplastics, they also leach harmful chemicals into the soil. 

Plastic packaging production also uses significant amounts of energy and resources, causing the release of carbon emissions into the air. This exacerbates the global packaging waste crisis and undermines sustainability efforts. Sustainable packaging, on the other hand, seeks to mitigate these harmful effects by utilizing renewable, recyclable, or compostable materials.

Greenwashing in the Packaging Industry: The Deceptive Dilemma

Within the packaging industry, some companies resort to making false or exaggerated claims about the environmental merits of their raw materials. Such tactics can mislead consumers into believing they are making eco-conscious choices when, in reality, they are not.

Companies that claim their products are biodegradable often deceive consumers because these products do not decompose within a reasonable timeframe. Many people consider "biodegradable" a greenwashing term because everything will eventually biodegrade. Understanding the difference between Biodegradable and Compostable is crucial for consumers.

Another deceptive maneuver was put in place by the plastics industry in the introduction of their “chasing arrows” recycling logos. Consumers often believe that if a package has a logo, it can be recycled, but this is often not the case.

The codes indicate the plastic resin used, not its recyclability. In fact, of the seven symbols introduced, only PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs can be recycled. All other plastics are being sent to landfill or burned. 

Detecting Greenwashing: Your Anti-Deception Toolkit

Greenwashing is a worrying trend. The packaging industry is particularly vulnerable to greenwashing because of the increasing desire to reduce our collective carbon footprint. To ensure your packaging matches your sustainability goals, it's important to know what greenwashing is and how to identify it. Consumer buying eco-friendly packaging

Here are red flags to watch out for:

  1. Be cautious of packaging labeled only "eco-friendly", "green", or "biodegradable". Businesses often use these phrases without providing concrete proof or certifications of their green products.

  2. Companies prioritizing sustainability will openly disclose information about the materials they use and their supply chain. Keep an eye out for businesses that are not open about their sustainability claims, practices, and sourcing.

  3. Images of nature or farms on packaging can create the illusion of environmental friendliness. However, the business may be falsely claiming its social responsibility. Look for certifications or labels that substantiate a product's environmental benefits.

  4. Some companies divert attention from their plastic pollution by highlighting their sustainability efforts. For example, a fast fashion brand promoting LED lights in their stores without disclosing their plastic waste is deceiving consumers.

The Impact of Greenwashing: A Call to Action

 When consumers unwittingly buy products with misleading claims, they may become disillusioned and lose trust in eco-friendly packaging. This undermines the progress toward sustainable packaging solutions.

The Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides help companies be honest about their eco-friendly claims on products and packaging. These rules say what companies can and can't say about being environmentally responsible. 

The Green Guides provide a clear framework for honest and accurate environmental marketing. Businesses following these guidelines can make honest claims about their sustainable products, helping consumers make better decisions. 

In Conclusion: Making Informed Choices

As the demand for sustainable packaging surges, it's crucial for consumers to remain vigilant against greenwashing. Look for Certified Compostable packaging and PFAS Free packaging options to make informed choices.

By educating ourselves and making discerning choices, we can support companies genuinely committed to sustainability. Together, we can drive positive change in the packaging industry and work toward a more sustainable future.