How Certifications Help to Avoid Greenwashing

Have you ever spotted a product on a grocery store shelf claiming to be “compostable,” “biodegradable,” or “eco-friendly,” and wondered how that could possibly be true? How can single-use disposable products traditionally made from plastic become compostable or biodegradable? Well, it’s not impossible. Bioplastics have provided us with a material that can be molded into single-use products that function like plastic but can be broken down to usable compost. The challenge is identifying which of those “eco-friendly” products are ACTUALLY compostable. When the green revolution began back in the 1980’s, companies realized that consumers were willing to spend more money with businesses that had sustainable practices or provided eco-friendly products. This led to the birth of greenwashing: conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound.

Greenwashing began as businesses took advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge around sustainable business practices and products. In order to protect consumers, regulations were put in place to ensure claims of sustainability were accurate claims of sustainability. The FTC Green Guides outline these rules for businesses, and the claims they are allowed to make surrounding sustainable products and practices. One of the main points of the Green Guides is that scientific testing is required to back up any claims of sustainability, and that generic phrases like “eco-friendly” should generally be avoided because they are often misleading. One of the best ways to provide a solid and legal claim that is also backed by strong science and a third party evaluation is to look for compostability certifications on compostable products.

Compostability certifications come from 3 main certifying bodies: TUV Austria, BPI (the Biodegradable Products Institute), and CMA (the Compost-Manufacturing Alliance). If you find logos from any of these 3 organizations on a sustainable product, you can rest assured knowing that any claims of sustainability, compostability, or biodegradability are backed by science and 100% true. There’s no greenwashing when there are certifications involved. This comes in handy when you’re selling products in multiple different states. The Green Guides are a federal requirement, but some states (like California for example) have tighter greenwashing regulations than just the Green Guides. Certifications ensure that you are compliant with greenwashing regulations no matter where the product is sold. You may have to be a bit more careful with the wording of your claims (for example, the word “biodegradable” is no longer allowed to be used in claims in California because it is too often used in a misleading way), but overall, your products, business, and customers will be covered when your products are certified.

Greenwashing is a fickle concept. With different regulations in different areas, and now with more and more states and cities also bringing in single-use plastics bans, there’s A LOT to worry about when you’re marketing a sustainable product. But certifications provide a simple solution. While acquiring them does require some time and monetary investment, they’ll serve you well in the long run in protecting your business and your customers. So remember: buy and sell certified!

Single-Use Plastics Bans are Back!

When did plastic bans leave in the first place you ask? Well, you can check out the original story on our blog here, but the gist of the story is that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of cities rolled back single-use plastics bans that were in place or in development in order to accommodate problems associated with the quarantine and pandemic. Now, we get it – it was a global pandemic, the world had a lot going on. But does that really make protecting our planet from plastic less important? NO. Luckily, now that we’ve learned how to live in this new, covid-managed world, single-use plastics bans are coming back with a vengeance, as people are starting to realize the damage we did during COVID.

As of 2021, over 8 million tons of pandemic-generated plastic waste had been produced. To put that in perspective, that’s an ADDITIONAL 8 million tons on top of the 300 million tons we already produce. That’s not an insignificant amount! In a time when our plastic pollution problem was getting worse, why did we consider part of the solution to be removing the legislation that at least did a little bit to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produced, pandemic-generated or not? We should have been striving to put a dent in the 300 million to make room for the 8 million. Instead, we allowed pollution levels to skyrocket, leaving us with an even larger problem than we had before.

Here’s the positive side: single-use plastics bans are back and on the rise. One of the most notable plastic bans going into effect this year was in New York City. NYC has had a plastic bag ban in place since October of 2020. More recently, they’ve enacted a plastic straw and stirrer ban. The ban was enacted in November of 2021, and businesses have 1 year to find and implement alternatives prior to being fined. Fines will begin in November of 2022. The fines for this ban mirror many other plastic straw and stirrer bans nationwide: $100 for first offense, $200 for the second, and $400 for the third and all subsequent offenses.

Having a big city like New York take steps forward to fight plastic pollution is a great example to set for cities not only throughout the US, but throughout the world. It proves that bans like this can be implemented and (hopefully) enforced successfully in large cities. It’s estimated that the USA used 1.6 straws per person per day. If we apply this to New York City (a population of 8.419 million people), that means that they’ll be keeping 13.47 million plastic straws from heading to oceans and landfills EVERY DAY. That’s nearly 5 BILLION straws saved per year in a single city in the US. Imagine if every large city in the world had bans in place like this. Imagine the dent we could make in the plastic pollution problem.

Plastic pollution doesn’t just put marine life at risk, but it can put terrestrial wildlife and humans at risk too. When animals consume plastic and then we consume meat, we are consuming the same chemicals that those animals did. It’s estimated that in a year, we consume as much as a half a pound of plastic. Is that really a number we want to continue to rise? Plastic bans are a great place to start fixing this problem. More cities should take a page out of New York’s book. Plastic bans are back, and it’s time for the world to get on board.

How Compostable Products Can Benefit Your Business

Compostable products provide a wide variety of benefits to not only our planet, but your business as well. A more sustainable business has been shown to garner more customer loyalty, higher profits, and better draw with younger consumers. Setting sustainability goals and implementing sustainability initiatives in your business can make a world of difference in the way your business is viewed by the public. Take Patagonia for example. The company uses huge volumes of fleece and other potential pollutants to make their products. However, they now employ a variety of sustainability programs across their entire business, making sure to include recycled materials, pay living wages, and ensure the sustainability of their supply chains. All of these actions have led to their positioning as one of the top sustainable organizations in the world.

So how do compostables fit?

Some of the facts are easy, like the fact that you’re helping to solve the plastic pollution problem by utilizing products that are compostable and made from plants rather than plastic ones that don’t break down for 500 hundred years, and leave microplastics behind. This helps your business to reduce it’s overall carbon footprint, as well as to market the fact that you’re doing your part to help reduce the single-use plastic pollution crisis plaguing our planet.

Alongside this, compostables also provide you with an opportunity to be a leader in your community. Many compostable products are industrially compostable, meaning they need a specialized facility to properly break down. Your business can help encourage your community to implement a municipal composting collection system, which then creates a ripple effect as more businesses and communities join in. You have the ability to reach further than you can ever imagine.

It’s time to switch.

Another big benefit to implementing compostable products (especially those that hold certifications from BPI and TUV) is that many of these products are compliant with single-use plastics bans that have been rolling out nationwide. Your business can jump ahead of the curve by implementing compostable sooner rather than later. When bans come, products will quickly become scarce, as compostables are still new in the market, meaning the production of these materials still isn’t at the level needed to fully support every single business that needs a single-use product. To make sure you and your business don’t get left in the dust, switch to compostable sooner rather than later!

Last but not least, we have the numbers that businesses really care about. Studies have shown that 79% of consumers are altering their purchasing habits based on sustainability, and that these consumers are willing to pay premiums for sustainable products. This means that businesses perceived as more sustainable see higher profits, as well as stronger customer loyalty. They also demonstrate a stronger pull of customers in younger generations, where sustainability is a more prevalent issue. All of these combined lead to businesses with more sustainability initiatives and goals being more successful and ranking higher than those that don’t. Even if it’s a small step, like switching your traditional plastic single-use products to compostable alternatives, it has the potential to make a much larger impact on your business as a whole.

We get it. Compostables are generally more expensive than petro-based single-use products. But consider how much good they can do not only for the planet, but for your community and your business. Sustainability is a growing issue, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. You don’t want to be left behind when the plastics bans and sustainable revolution come to your city. Take advantage of the benefits of compostables now, before it’s too late.

UrthPact Products are the Certified Best

What makes UrthPact products stand out from the large crowd of other compostable, single-use products out there? Is it that we are 100% Made in the USA? Or that our products are made in a Safe Quality Food certified facility? What about our fully customizable and unique branding experience for our straws? While all of these things are what make us who we are, one trait stands out when it comes to our mission to save the world from plastic: all of our products are certified compostable, whether it’s TUV Industrial, TUV Home, or BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute). Many of our product lines even hold multiple certifications, just to prove that we really are what we say we are. We believe in providing our customers (and their customers in turn) with high quality products that are true to their word: to break down anywhere on Earth in under a year.

Where’s our proof? 

By certifying our compostable products, we’re backing up our claims with hard science, and the backing of a reputable third party certifying body. It’s not just us saying that our products are compostable; we have the data and facts to prove it. And depending on the product line, we’ve done this multiple times over. Take our straws for example. We started out by passing the test standard AS 5810 for home compost, which then in turn led to a TUV Home certification (for full breakdown, both chemical and physical, in under 1 year). But when our customers said that wasn’t enough, that no one even knew what home compost was yet, we went 2 steps further. We also obtained a TUV Industrial certification, which in turn allowed us to obtain a BPI certification as well. Even though BPI and TUV Industrial are essentially the same certification (the only real difference being that TUV is based in Austria and BPI is based in the USA), we took it upon ourselves to ensure we covered every base to protect our partners and their customers.

Having a certified compostable product also makes it more likely to comply with newer plastics bans that are rolling out across the country. Many newer bans are utilizing certification and test standards as gateways for which compostables are allowed under the ban (check out Charleston, SC for an example), and those that don’t have certifications written into their bans are actively being contested to include them. Having a certified product like UrthPact’s protects you and your business from any legal consequences, whether that be from plastics bans or greenwashing laws. Certifications ensure that there is no greenwashing here; all of our claims are 100% backed by scientific lab testing and field results. 

Now, certifications aren’t perfect. They are timely and costly to obtain, and when you certify a product for compostability or biodegradability in multiple environments, you have to obtain multiple certifications, increasing both the time to get them certified and the cost to do so. We get it, the system isn’t perfect. But we’ve already done all of that work for you. And, if there’s a certification we don’t have that you need, we’ll work to obtain that certification to ensure you can communicate honestly with your customers about our products. We know that honesty and integrity are key elements when it comes to compostable single-use products. There are a lot of skeptics in this industry. It’s up to us to prove them wrong.

To learn more about the certifications held by UrthPact products, click the links below:

Straws: TUV Home, TUV Industrial, BPI, CMA-I, and certified marine degradable material under TUV Marine
Cutlery: TUV Industrial and BPI
Coffee Pods (Rings): TUV Industrial, BPI, and TUV Home (coming soon!)
Degassing Valves: TUV Industrial, BPI (coming soon!), and TUV Home (coming soon!)
Juice Bottles: passed ASTM D6400, TUV Industrial (coming soon!)

Why It Is So Important to Protect the Planet from Plastic

We all recognize that plastic (single-use plastic especially) is a danger to our planet. But how big of a danger is it? Can the single plastic straw you got in your to-go cup threaten our environment? What about the disposable water bottle you bought at a theme park? Did you dispose of it properly in recycling, trash, or compost? Or, more importantly, what happened to it after you did?

How much impact does your one item have on people, the community you live in and the planet?

There are multiple ways that plastic waste negatively affects our planet. And it starts from before the plastic is even made. Just putting in an oil well disturbs and destroys the environment around it. On land, the area must be cleared of vegetation. In marine ecosystems, the seismic techniques utilized disturb fish and destroy seafloor habitats. New technologies are helping to reduce these effects, however, there are better ways to produce materials that function like plastic (ie, bioplastics). When fracking is used rather than traditional oil wells, there is the potential for the toxic chemicals that are used to help extract oil from tight geological formations to leach into groundwater supplies.

And let’s not forget the risk and damage of an oil spill. The Persian Gulf Spill of 1991, BP’s Deep Horizon in 2010, Mexico’s Intox 1 Spill back in the late 1970’s. These environmental disasters spewed millions of gallons of oil into marine and terrestrial ecosystems, destroying habitats and killing a ridiculous amount of wildlife. These top 3 spills alone spilled over 700 million gallons into marine ecosystems. Ask yourself, what is the real cost of that a plastic straw in your cup or plastic bag at the grocery store?

The single-use plastic you use today will still be here after five of your life times.

Not only are petroleum-based plastics dangerous at their beginning of life, they’re dangerous at their end of life as well. Why? Because plastics were originally developed to be used for long-term products like Tupperware, not things that are used once and tossed like straws. But the material was so cheap and easy to produce that we began using it for everything (and I mean literally everything). This means that we made products that will be used for 5-10 minutes out of a material built to last hundreds of years.

Yes, plastic is cheap and convenient, but is it worth having that straw, bottle, or bag, stick around on Earth for 500 years? Even when plastic waste is properly disposed of in recycling, you can’t recycle plastic indefinitely. At some point or another, it’s going to end up in landfills or littered in the environment. Current predictions say that if we continue on our current path, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastic waste in the environment endangers wildlife in multiple ways. Plastic waste in landfills takes hundreds of years to break down, and even then it leaves behind dangerous chemicals and microplastics. In fact, those microplastics that end up on our oceans are eaten by fish, which in turn, can end up on your plate!

Realistically, your one straw or bottle obviously isn’t a huge volume of plastic. But your actions have a ripple effect in your life that you may not even realize. It takes just one person to spur change in a lot of people’s lives. Take our marketing coordinator Alison for example. Whenever her family would go to the beach in the summer, they’d buy case after case of disposable bottles to take with them (the town water in their beach town wasn’t that great). One summer, she bought 2 Brita filters, and told her mom they weren’t buying any cases of disposable bottles that summer. Now, not everyone in her family was super happy with the change. Her grandpa still brought his case of disposable bottles. But overall that summer, they probably saved close to 200 bottles from being disposed of (they didn’t have recycling in their town, so the bottles were always thrown in the trash). A single person can make a difference. And, like the ripples in a pond, reach the people around them and in their community. So switch to that reusable Starbucks coffee cup. You never know which of your coworkers might think it’s cool and make the switch too.

We all have the ability to make a difference to our planet. If we keep saying, “well that’s another generation’s problem not mine,” we’ll end up drowning our kids, grandkids, and every generation after that in a sea of plastic waste. There will be fewer species on this planet for them to see, fewer beautiful natural places for them to visit. Just because the problem hasn’t reached a peak yet, doesn’t mean you don’t try to solve it now. You don’t wait until your pet is on their deathbed to go to the vet, you go as soon as you realize there’s something wrong. Our planet is the same way. If we wait until we’re drowning in plastic waste, it will be too late. The problem is here now, and it’s on us to make changes to make a difference.