Thursday 20 February 2020

Green Wash and Wish Cycling

What the Heck is Green washing?

No I haven't made these terms up!

Per Wikipedia, based on the term whitewash, 'greenwashing' was coined in a 1986 essay regarding the hotels practice of placing placards in each room, promoting reuse of towels ostensibly to "save the environment." 

Author Westervelt noted that in most cases, little or no effort toward reducing energy waste was being made by these institutions. More money or time [may have] been spent advertising being "green" than is actually spent on environmentally sound practices.

An example of this practise is Kimberly Clark's claim of "Pure and Natural" diapers in green packaging. It gives consumers a sense that it is purely natural from the brand name. The product uses organic cotton on the outside, however they keep the same petrochemical gel on the inside.

In 2018, in response to increased calls for banning plastic straws, Starbucks introduced a new straw-less lid that actually contained more plastic by weight than the old straw and lid combination.

More on these plus references at:

I got Tripped up Too!
I fell into this trap myself during my experiment to reduce or replace 50 single use items for my 50th year on this planet. 

I bought some teeth flossing harps (called floss picks) that were touted as mainly made from corn starch material. In fact when you look at the package it says corn starch in big letters. It was only after I'd ordered them did I realise only 40% was corn starch, the rest was PP (Polypropylene) materials (on the packet I bought), I've seen others say PLA plastics.

On their own website it says:

'Our floss picks are made primarily from corn-starch but are not fully compostable. In time, we hope to be able to find a solution to ensure the firmness and quality of the floss pick handle with a fully compostable material.'

This is not mentioned on the listing details so unless you dig through the FAQ you wouldn't even realise. Many folks reviewing the product are delighted they have found a fully natural and compostable product when in fact it is neither of those things!

Also the flossing part itself is made from nylon (they say for their bamboo toothbrushes for instance that nylon bristles should be removed before disposal).

Crsytal Ball in Trees and Forest Photo by Bogdan Dirică from Pexels

The Good and Bad.. 
For me I do love that companies big or small are looking for ways to move away from petro chemical based plastics. BUT we have to be careful that folks are not being misled into thinking their product can be thrown into the compost bin which could then contaminate good compost material. I would assume industrial composters sift out final product anyway so it may be removed eventually, but I don't like the idea of plastics sitting in compost material leaching chemicals when we're trying desperately to keep fragments of plastics away from the natural environment.

It may also encourage consumers to choose one product over another believing they are doing right for the planet thereby giving the companies that do use greenwashing techniques the upper hand. Oh they do love a gullible consumer!

Do I Have any Solutions? 
Not really, other than be informed, look for alternatives and reduce your waste. You will be tripped up from time to time. If the companies aren't honest, for instance putting corn starch in big letters at the front when you realise it's only 40% corn starch which you don't see until you look at the back after purchase, I would say this is misleading. Even more misleading when the company does not give you the option to take a look at the back of the packet on their website, or at least paste their FAQ in the buying section to let consumers be aware of what they're buying and how to dispose of it properly!

Here's a wee video on greenwashing if you have a spare moment..


What is Wishcycling?
According to Recycle Nation 'Wishcycling is the process of putting items in a recycling bin instead of the trash even if you’re not sure whether they are recyclable or not.'

Seems pretty harmless right? Surely someone somewhere will figure out what to do with it! Trouble is, recycling machines notoriously get tangled up. 

Loose plastic bags for example don't want to be in with the plastics recycling, they are better off being dropped off at your local supermarket bag collection point where they can turn them into new bags. 

Meanwhile card items covered in grease (say from a pizza) may end up contaminating paper stock making a batch worthless. 

Recycling centres do have staff that help to sift through some of the stuff and machines can hep sift through others but due to the sheer volume some items can get missed and end up contaminating a whole batch.

What about Biodegradeable?

Another example is the introduction of biogradeable or compostable plastic. Recycle Now site says these should not be added to supermarket bag recycling. (A list of what can and can't be recycled can be found here.) So the consumer is mighty confused as to what goes where.

They say, 'Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled, regardless of whether it is fossil-based or bio-based. Compostable plastics can be composted at industrial scale composting facilities, so you can put these in with your green waste but only if it goes to one of these facilities - your council will be able to tell you where your green waste goes. 

'Compostable plastics should not go in with your dry recycling as they cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastic.'

Recycle Now site is a great resource to help you find what can and can't be recycled in your local area.

Be a Recycling Detective

I guess we need to do our own research, for instance, I had been throwing tetrapacks regularly into our household recycling bins for collection only to find out our local sorting centre doesn't even process them. 

Tetrapacks were not shown in the picture of our laminated card sent out by the council on what can be recycled which made me wonder. I enquired and was told, no, we don't take any carton packs at all. That was news to me! So finally I got the right product in the right place after a bit of research and found a local drop off point for Tetrapak cartons. 

Other areas meanwhile may have no problem with tetrapak being picked up by household collection. My mum's laminated guide sheet in a different area, lists tetrapacks as a collected item. So the consumer has to be vigilant and try and figure it all out. What is the norm for collection in one area maybe different to another.

Should I Still Bother?
I really think it is still worth recycling, the points above are not meant to put any of you off. 

But as the saying always goes, 'It's not easy being green!' A bit of detective work maybe required. Keep on keeping on. After all, the planet is in your hands!

No Intelligent Species would destroy their own planet Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels