Greenwashing plastic

A student’s parent shared the greenwashed images below with me a few days ago. They come from a northern edition of The Hindu (I’m not sure if it came in the version sold down south where I live). He says it was the front page, front cover of the newspaper. It’s an ad for BASF claiming that they create plastic that is not only compostable, but that compost loves plastic.

Where are the people fighting false advertising when you need them? Okay, I almost fell for this last year when I saw the Eco-Pro garbage bags at my local organic market in Bangalore. They also claim that they are biodegradable. They’re not. They are also called oxo-degradable plastics, and even a quick perusal of the Wikipedia makes it clear that while they may break down faster, we can’t be sure that they’ll be good for the soil or the earth’s water bodies.

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So here’s the ugly truth: these new fangled plastics claiming to be somehow eco friendly degrade more quickly than the other plastics. This just means that they break down more quickly into smaller pieces (sound like microbeads anyone?) and then get into our water systems and into animal bellies. It also resonates with recent news about microfibers or microfleece: that even though some companies, like Patagonia, take back old products to break them down and turn them into new ones–sounds like a fabulous recycling programme!–that entire process actually makes the products more likely to shed and break down in your washing machine and enter our waterbodies just like those pesky little microbeads do. Smaller, broken down pieces of plastic is not the answer!

Once plastics break down into tiny pieces, they go into the food system and wreak havoc on the planet, especially our water bodies, because they turn into smaller pieces that much more quickly:

Biodegradable plastics — which have been used for shopping bags, water bottles and food containers — are designed to be less durable and capable of degrading quickly in the environment. But the problem, according to the U.N., is that the conditions required for such plastics to break down exist almost exclusively in industrial composters, not in the ocean.

Here is what a Guardian article had to say on the subject in its greenwashing column:

This European backlash against oxo-biodegradable plastics follows similar rumblings in the US. In March, the New York Times announced it would not be wrapping its paper in bags made of the stuff because claims that the plastic was “100% biodegradable” did not stand up. This followed a ruling last December by an advertising industry watchdog, part of the US Council of Better Business Bureaus, that makers should stop calling the bags “eco-friendly”.

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