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!